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Youth Employment and Global Business Ethics

Guy Murfey discusses the ethics of youth employment across the globe.

Our daughter got her first real job a couple of weeks ago; it’s a great job, a graduate program, it fits her skills and her temperament and as much as an outside observer can tell after a few days, her employers and managers seem to be a nice bunch of people. It has been a long journey, with not a small number of challenges along the way. She did believe at the early stages of her schooling, that there was no requirement for her to read as she would become rich and be able to pay someone to read for her! There were a number of distractions along the way deferring studies to work in ski resorts and I suspect that the semester spent studying in Boston had more to do with adventure than education. But she is starting a career now, and the challenges were worth it to see her engaged and excited about life. It made a huge difference to her.

It was ironic that this occurred while the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos was struggling with the seemingly intractable issue of worldwide youth unemployment. The figures that have been produced by the International Labor Organization are massively concerning. Tens of millions of people aged between 15 and 24 are without work. This is particularly acute in North Africa and the Middle East where the rates are as high as 30%. Even if a young individual can find work, the quality of the work is likely to be extremely poor. A significant percentage of young people are earning a wage well below the poverty line. With increasing automation the challenge only seems to get bigger.

I could not help thinking about how destructive this unemployment is for the individuals. What happens when they are disengaged from the community, how many disappear into crime or drugs or depression, how many find themselves attracted to radical groups? It is heartening that it is a focus for the UN; ‘Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth.’

All too often though, business leaders tend to see these issues as abstract or a problem for government. That doesn’t mean that all business people are disinterested and disengaged. The fact is youth unemployment is on the WEF agenda and initiatives like the Credit Suisse sponsored ‘Youth Unemployment Initiative’ are a demonstration of that engagement. However, business leaders need to do more, they have enormous power and influence as well as a responsibility to the communities that provide their workforces, natural resources, infrastructure and markets. Even ignoring the morality, a healthy society is better for business; businesses do not fare well in failed states.

And these matters can be less abstract. Our daughter’s Boston trip was in the winter of 2013, and only by the slightest of coincidences, she was not at the finish line of the city’s famous marathon when two brothers, the older, an unemployed young man brimming with anger, let off a bomb. None of us are immune from the serious social issues of a globalized world.