Launching the circular economy partnership between the International Labour Organization (ILO), Circle Economy and the Solutions for Youth Employment (S4YE) Programme at the World Bank, this event presented the newest results from an extensive literature review and underline the need for a just transition to a circular economy, with a particular focus on the creation of decent jobs and fairer labour markets. This event is organized by ILO, the World Bank (including their Geneva Office), Circle Economy, and the Geneva Environment Network.

About this Session

More evidence is needed to understand how the circular economy impacts people and their livelihoods. This event marks the launch of the ‘Jobs in the Circular Economy’ initiative of Circle Economy, the ILO, and S4YE. This initiative aims to address gaps in the evidence base for circular jobs through collaboration with an international community of research institutions, industry representatives, social partners, governments, and public agencies.

During the event, the organizers will present the latest results from an extensive literature review and underline the need for a just transition to a circular economy, with a particular focus on the creation of decent jobs. These findings are part of a new report under the initiative, “Decent Work in the Circular Economy: An Overview of the Existing Evidence Base“.

The event will provide an overview of the status quo in the circular economy and the existing evidence on decent work within the field to identify research gaps and leverage points for the creation of fairer labour markets. Additionally, it will explore key recurring themes related to decent work found in research and identify corresponding research gaps that should be addressed to advance practice and support a just transition toward a circular economy.

This event was organized by ILO, the World Bank (including their Geneva Office), Circle Economy, and the Geneva Environment Network.


By order of intervention.


Head of Unit, Extractives, Energy and Manufacturing in the Sectoral Policies Department, International Labour Organization | Moderator

Namita DATTA

Program Manager, Solutions for Youth Employment (S4YE) Initiative, World Bank Group


Lead, Circular Jobs Initiative, Circle Economy


Director, Energy Industry and Just Transition, IndustriALL Global Union


Adviser, Climate Change, IOE

Nandini KUMAR

Consultant, CII-ITC Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Development

Kadiatu A. SHERIFF

YOUNGO Green Jobs Working Group | Founder and President, Golden Waste Solutions Enterprise Inc.


Head, Global Collaboration for Sustainability Solutions, Sitra


Welcome and Introduction

Casper EDMONDS | Head of Unit, Extractives, Energy and Manufacturing in the Sectoral Policies Department, International Labour Organization | Moderator

  • Today’s event will launch a new initiative to measure, model, and monitor jobs in the circular economy through the collaboration of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Circle economy and the World Bank.
  • The core message of this initiative and the take home from this event is: people are at the heart of the circular economy, be they skilled craftsmen maintaining products to prolong their lifetime; waste pickers supporting themselves and their families by taking value out of waste; entrepreneurs launching new circular designs or business models. It is people like these and the work that they do daily that build cleaner, greener and more circular economies step by step.
  • We know little about these people and their work in the circular economy. Estimates point out that the transition to more circular economies has the potential to create between 6 and 7 million new jobs globally.
  • While 78 million new jobs will be created between 71 and 72 million jobs will be lost.Little is known about this massive transformation, especially about where these jobs will be created and lost and their quality.
  • Many circular jobs today are in the informal economy, where workers and employers struggle to make a living and reach their full potential. We can only imagine about working conditions, which can be poor at times, but we do not have a clear picture of what millions of workers face working in their circular economy.
  • We are flying blind and this conditions the designing of relevant policies and the triggering of efficient action to accelerate the transformation to a circular economy.
  • Unless we know more about green jobs in the circular economy, we cannot ensure that the transition to the circular economy becomes a fair and just transition, which is why the ILO, Circle Economy and the World Bank have come together to create a new initiative to measure, model and monitor jobs in the circular economy.
  • Today also marks the launch of a new report ‘Decent Work in The Circular Economy: an Overview of the Existing Evidence-Base’. Marking the first step in our journey, this report contains an extensive review of existing research of decent work in the circular economy and it sets out what is known and not.
  • This allows us to begin to build out the landscape, and develop the tools and knowledge that we need to ensure a just transition to a just circular economy.

Overview of the new ILO-WB-CE Initiative

Namita DATTA | Program Manager, Solutions for Youth Employment (S4YE) Initiative, World Bank Group

  • The ideas that have guided the development of the report and the initiative more broadly have been unfolding through a three-year program. We consider this still to be a work in progress and feedback in terms of what more needs to be done are appreciated.
  • The World Bank’s Global program S4YE (Solutions for Youth Employment) was launched a few years ago to tackle youth employment as a development challenge.
  • Youth employment is too big a challenge for any organization alone. S4YE brought together a network of partners in the private sector, Civil Society Organizations, foundations, donors, and young people themselves.
  • The idea behind the collaboration between ILO, S4YE, and Circle Economy is to delve more in-depth in the potential of the circular economy.
  • As the world should be increasingly moving away from the extract-use-waste of natural resources mindset, knowing what kind of transformation that will imply for people, especially in developing countries, is fundamental. In discussions about jobs in the circular economy, policymakers are primarily interested in this aspect.
  • The three organizations came together to address the question of what the future of the working job will look like. As old jobs will disappear or be redesigned and new ones created, new skills will be necessary.
  • While definitions of key concepts, like circularity, skills and more are needed, we believe that the circular economy offers an opportunity to improve the quality of jobs.
  • Currently, there is not enough focus or clarity, therefore this initiative is born to fill the gap by placing the work agenda at the heart of the circular economy agenda. We believe it will further strengthen the circular economy agenda because it addresses a key issue, representing a concern for most policymakers.
  • Our aim is not just to come up with the right numbers but also to identify the right methods to assess them.
  • Ideally, the partnership between ILO-Circle Economy and S4YE will unfold in a three-year collaborative initiative because time is necessary to build up.
  • Work would be defined in three key pillars


  • Our way of proceeding shows how the pillars are linked to one another. If we pick a particular value chain, we might start by exchanging information on what is already working or not; and identifying the enabling environment around that value chain. This will then be followed by models and metrics development.
  • This joint initiative will predominantly uptake these tasks:
    1. Conduct an in-depth analysis of the circular economy.
    2. Develop consistent and rigorous methodologies; assessments and indicators for anybody to use as a global public good.
    3. Raise awareness and share knowledge on jobs in the circular economy, framing the conversation on quantity and quality, ensuring that inclusiveness is the core principle of this shift towards circularity.
    4. Foster different types of partnerships and collaboration that are really required.
  • Three organizations that have come together will not succeed in addressing this colossal challenge alone, a diversified network of partners, perspectives, and strengths is needed. These might include research institutions, social partners, industries, governments, policy-makers and think tanks.
  • We wish for this to be a multi-faceted so partnership that will ensure that the quality and inclusiveness of these jobs in the circular economy are not an afterthought.
  • Next steps for the initiative

Presentation of Findings from the Literature Review

Esther GOODWIN-BROWN | Lead, Circular Jobs Initiative, Circle Economy 

Summary of the Findings

  • This first joint report aimed to answer three main questions: 1) what is known now; 2) what does the evidence tell us about decent work in the circular economy; 3) what challenges and opportunities are there when it comes to promoting decent work in circular economy value chains; and 4) how could better evidence help to bolster existing efforts towards a just and inclusive circular economy.
  • We conducted an extensive evidence review, which revealed that between 1995 and 2022 over 30 000 academic papers have been published on circular economy. Out of these, 1400 addressed decent work and the circular economy, with 105 papers in 2021. Interest and knowledge of the socio-economic impacts of the circular economy is growing, but still very nascent compared to its environmental impacts and benefits.
  • 84 of these papers focused on understanding circular economy interventions within the context of countries in the global North, while those focusing on countries and value chains in the global South mainly addressed waste management and recycling sectors.
  • Across all these papers, 8% percent of the analysis is done on the macro-economic level with only around 10 % going down to what this means for industries or firms levels.
  • Key themes of the report:

    • Labor market transformation. From the literature review, it emerged that job creation is seen as the key social contribution of the circular economy. However, the number of jobs to be created in the circular economy vary due to a difference in data sets and models being used. Few studies focus on the quality of jobs and a lot of emphasis around is posed on recycling, repairing and maintenance activities. Focus on enabling sectors that can accelerate and upscale the circular economy will be helpful for identifying the strengths and competitiveness of different regions.  For example, the use of different technological solutions to accelerate and upscale core parts of the circular economy. Circular economy is incredibly complex. This global and highly interdependent subject requires more studies that map and understand the interconnection between value chains and their corresponding social impacts. By conducting different types of impact analysis, collaboration between countries, trading partners, and industries can be facilitated.
    • Social equity. The circular economy is considered a great enabler of this process but is affected by the same challenges of the green economy and other transitions. Overcoming this require targeted policy interventions that focus on promoting the rights and opportunities of all people, particularly those who are disenfranchised by linear business models and value chains. By simulating private sector investments and enterprise development in the circular economy, there is a real opportunity to create jobs. However, little research has focused on its potential to tackle issues such as persistent levels of youth unemployment. To fill the gaps of this untapped area of research, we invite collaboration that can support its translation into policy.
    • Working conditions are a central topic for the creation of decent jobs in the circular economy. Research on this is still in its infancy and mostly focused on occupational health and safety in waste management recycling, whereas other key aspects of decent work like remuneration, inclusion and collective bargaining are underexplored. Evidence around the quantity and the role of informal workers and other types of atypical workers such as platform workers is under-quantified and needs to be unveiled for circular economy interventions to consider them. As the central economy begins to be scaled and new value chains and activities emerge, it will be essential to uphold workers’ rights through collective bargaining schemes and social dialogue.

Calls to Action and Ways Forward

  • We need a much more granular picture of what circular economy entails across countries, regions, marginalized groups, and on the local level, supported by globally relevant indicators.
  • We also see a need to zoom out so to create a more global and socially justice-led vision for the circular economy. This must be supported by research and targeted policy, sharing best practices through deep dives part of pillar two that will allow us to understand what it means for different countries and value chains around the world.
  • Future steps require an examination of policies and measures that can support that progress and maximize the benefits for people.
  • We invite you all to jointly advocate for a more inclusive circular economy by creating data partnerships, sharing knowledge, and learning to make people already at the heart of the circle economy visible and to maximize the potential for the sacral economy to bring benefits.


Q: Was there a consensus on the definition of circular economy across the documents consulted for the literature review and if so, does that mean it might be relatively straightforward to identify jobs in the circular economy?

Q: Is the definition of circular economy jobs used by the partnership in alignment with the International Conference of Labors Statisticians’ (ICLS) definition for green jobs “employment in the environmental sector, which is also decent”? How is the decency work component measured?

Esther GOODWIN-BROWN: Consensus on the definition of jobs in the circular economy is not strong and one of the partnership’s ambitions is to help drive more consensus. The lack of consensus is partly reflected in the different ways the circular economy is being measured and modeled around the world. This is also made more complex by the reliance on plural methods on sectoral classifications, but the circle economy happens a lot within and between sectors and value chains, meaning that this approach cannot yet capture its extent.

Namita DATTA: Part of the ambition is to identify at least some areas in common among definitions, which can allow also us to overcome the big variations in the final numbers that studies arrive at due to the employment of different assumptions, models, and data. It is unlikely to reach a consensus on a single definition. Our ambition is to propose a portfolio of options and methods that can fit different countries or data-poor environments.

Q: Who would you want to reach out to in terms of partnerships?

Namita DATTA: A broad-based partnership is ideal. This includes think tanks that are already working on these aspects, especially in developing countries; research institutions; practitioners who are implementing programs on the ground; donors who are supporting programs; NGOs that may be more familiar with the nuts and bolts; policymakers; multilateral organizations and well as the industry. The more perspectives the better.

Panel Discussion on  the Imperative of Harnessing Decent Work Opportunities in the Transition to the Circular Economy and Ensuring No-One is Left Behind

Kadiatu A. SHERIFF | YOUNGO Green Jobs Working Group | Founder and President, Golden Waste Solutions Enterprise

  • Youth take up higher proportions of the total world population, have the highest unemployment rate, and bear more the consequences of climate change. Youth are also in better positions to implement solutions to the climate crisis and circularity is a huge aspect of these.
  • There is an important correlation between youth engagement and circularity as the transition to the circular economy regards the creation of green jobs, which should for the majority be designed for young people. Indeed, young people have pushed for their participation in the conversation on the transition and are already leading in action on the ground.
  • It is necessary to further explore opportunities in the circular economy that can grand the empowerment and participation of youth.

Nandini KUMAR | Consultant, CII-ITC Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Development

  • Member companies to the Confederation of Indian Industries, which are estimated beyond 9 000 members, are increasingly interested in understanding what it will mean for them to be involved in a circular economy in terms of their processes and how to change these.
  • In terms of jobs, the conversation is not yet ripe, exceptions made for the waste and recycling sector.
  • Members are always at the forefront of global developments and are foreseeing the circular economy as shown by their interest in understanding what it means for them to harness the circular economy jobs’ potential.

Robert MARINKOVIC | Adviser, Climate Change, IOE

  • The International Organization of Employers (OIE) is a private sector network representative organization, whose members are national employers organizations. We have over 140 members who in total represent over 50 million companies across the world. We work in a range of policy areas and we have been engaging with climate and environmental policies.
  • It is very important to keep the focus on national contexts and regional developments to identify different priorities and challenges based on those specificities.
  • The circular economy has definitely been a very fast-growing area that has gathered a lot more attention in the last five years than it has before. Various of our members are talking about it and engaging in different policy discussions, initiatives, projects, and more.
  • Our members are national employers organizations and not individual companies, so sometimes there is also a little bit of a difference between the employers’ organization at the national level that has to cover a wide array of issues and their members who are sometimes more advanced than the organization itself on particular issues, like circular economy.
  • There are some companies that are quite advanced already, whereas others depending on the company are less involved or less aware.
  • One of the key messages coming out of the report presented today is that even though the circular economy agenda is developing quickly, there is still a lot of work to be done when it comes to capacity building, knowledge-sharing, and scaling up the successful experiences.
  • The ILO-CE-S4YE initiative brings together this search for coherence and creates efficiency to avoid duplicating existing work.
  • A systemic approach is essential to address common challenges of the circular economy, such as access to high-quality secondary materials; awareness of sources of circular products; identification of standards or indicators to use; who the subject matter experts or different regulations across countries and sectors are.
  • While offering global leadership, employers and organizations must also support companies in need of support and capacity building to understand the issue analyze how they can respond, and figure out the new business models that are needed to make the circular economy a standard across the globe.

Diana JUNQUERA CURIEL | Director, Energy Industry and Just Transition, IndustriALL Global Union

  • Whether members see the transition to the circular economy as an opportunity or as a threat to advancing decent work depends on various factors, including the age of respondents. People at the ends of their careers see it as a threat, while young people have a positive stance towards it as they understand the possibilities it can offer.
  • Negative outlooks often coincide with a lack of information. Guaranteeing the access and circulation of information on the future of jobs, including specific insurance on how these are going to be decent jobs and guaranteeing social protection, is key to starting a conversation with a broad range of stakeholders.
  • To ensure that the just transition becomes a reality and that circular jobs are suitable for young people, we need to focus on occupational health and safety, especially with regard to recycling materials and so on.
  • Investments are an aspect to be tackled. To support the infrastructure needed for the transition, public and private investment must facilitate the collection, sorting, and treatment of all materials as well as being used to build or upgrade recycling facilities.
  • The informal sector must undergo a transformation in the circular economy. We should create formal employment structures to promote education and training and for this to cover entire supply chains, from contractors to subcontractors.
  • When we talk about the just transition, cooperation with and equal participation of all stakeholders entails that governments, employers, and workers representatives engage in serious negotiations. Workers must be consistently and timely consulted rather than being informed. We have to go a step further and ask them what they need and how to institutionalize ways to work with them jointly.


Q: What actions are needed from governments, unions, and employers to ensure the transitions becomes a reality? What are the priorities for your members and the SMEs?


  • As in most contexts, there is no silver bullet and the job market transition is a rather complex landscape.
  • Diversity and disparities in capacities and challenges exist across regions, showing the importance of understanding and making the best use of the different ways to implement the circular economy.
  • For employers, a prime necessity to accelerate these kinds of transformations is an enabling environment. Governments should set up appropriate regulations, policies incentives, and supports to enable companies and the private sector to engage in the transition rather than dealing with it as a burden due to lacking knowledge or access to financing.
  • On the other hand, governments must be able to rely on a framework for engaging with the different stakeholders. This will be instrumental in creating a sense of ownership and ensuring the appropriate involvement of everybody.
  • Dedicated structures can also be useful to assess the necessary skills and infrastructure to set up a system where circular jobs can function. Currently, functioning markets where the circular economy functions at the global level do not exist and should be developed. These structures can connect offers and demand and standardize value-creation originating from reusing materials.
  • To set up such a complex system at a global level is not an easy task and for that to happen governments, employers, and workers must work together for this to be then reflected at the international level.

Q: What are the real challenges and opportunities to make plastics circular?

Nandini KUMAR

  • Circularity in plastics offers huge opportunities because the whole process of management throughout the plastics value chain can absorb and involve various people, so the potential for creating jobs is fantastic.
  • What is currently lacking right is the recognition of waste management as a sector of the economy equal to others. Nonetheless, I believe we are on the right path to change this conception, which will be beneficial for the creation of numerous jobs also for people to move up the socioeconomic ladder.
  • Skills necessary at the bottom level of the waste management hierarchy are natural, people tend to organically learn by working. From conversations with recyclers, it emerges that there is little to be taught for improving the efficiency of their work since they know exactly where the value lies and how to move it up.
  • What is unaddressed in plastics circularity are the aspects related to rights, health and safety in their work environment, including establishing mechanisms that prevent children from engaging in hazardous work while their mothers are working and earning their livelihood.

Q: What are the challenges and opportunities in getting a circular business started?

Kadiatu A. SHERIFF

  • Prior to establishing a circular business, is important to strengthen the mechanisms and opportunities for the youth to engage with this reality and create decent health and working conditions in the circular economy.
  • In Liberia, only recently a course providing information on waste management was made available to young people, which is what motivated me to follow this path. Quality information on how to properly handle waste should be expanded across the educational system to promote behavioral changes. This can help prevent the wrong people from handling waste and allow only those who understand where the value of this waste is before it ends up damaging the environment.
  • As a young social entrepreneur, I perceive the struggles faced by young people due to lacking formal education on circular economy. Young entrepreneurs in this sector must have a solid understanding of what the best model design are; have market awareness and customer access; as well as a good level of mentorship and skills transfer.

Q: is there a trade-off here between the growth of a developing country and a circular economy, which could be called degrowth?

Nandini KUMAR | Growth tends to get defined in a purely economic sense, but if it instead was evaluated over the criteria of people living decent lives, the concept of growth itself might be tweaked a little bit and fit the new purposes of the circular economy.


Intervention of a participant, Jorge Laguna-Celis | Director Responsible, UNEP One Planet Network

  • In the ongoing Third G20 Development Working Group Meeting, hosted and led by the government of India, discussions on circular economy at the national level in the context are taking place.
  • G20 countries and international organizations, including ILO and the World Bank, are supporting discussions on circular economy from the lifestyles for the environment angle. It demonstrates there is a demand for a coherent and inclusive response on how to measure and define what are the social safeguards and the roles of new and innovative business models and what is the role of digitalization in advancing a fair circular economy right and the necessary skills to put it in place. The ILO-CE-WB initiative will be instrumental to fill a gap in measuring, monitoring and skills identification and will set a gold standard by adopting an inclusive process that leaves no one behind and that hears the voices of employers, youth, and stakeholders.
  • We should advance in a coordinated manner, with every organization and track bringing its own perspectives and contribution, but also keeping in mind our complementarities in this connection.
  • One planet network stands ready to partner in this important initiative.

Kari HERLEVI | Head, Global Collaboration for Sustainability Solutions, Sitra

  • Sitra is a Finnish of think tank for the future and the circular economy has been a core of our activities for many years. Sitra has also been focusing on jobs and fair transition by conducting various studies.
  • We are now working on the preparation of the World Circular Economy Forum taking place from 30 May to 2 June 2023 in Helsinki.
  • The WCEF will generate momentum, but we are indeed flying blind, thus the partnership between ILO, World Bank, and Circle Economy will provide essential intelligence to move forward.
  • In terms of youth empowerment, the Forum has a target imposing that 25 percent of participants are below  35 years of age and we hope this number will be even greater in the future.
  • This year’s Forum will focus, among other things, on future skills and on the nature of the economy, deep diving into metrics.
  • In some of the recent studies conducted by Sitra, we evaluated the kind of skills needed by first looking at the European level and then at the global landscape through work with our experts in the education sector and combining the companies. Our approach is to integrate circular economy in these studies not as a separate silo topic but as an integral component
  • Reflections today focused on quantity, quality and inclusiveness. Inclusiveness is the core because we must engage those who are most affected.

Closing Remarks

Casper EDMONDS | Head of Unit, Extractives, Energy and Manufacturing in the Sectoral Policies Department, International Labour Organization | Moderator

  • A way to make the transition just is by embracing it and making sure it becomes just and fair with opportunities for enterprises, entrepreneurs and for job creation.
  • The upcoming 111th International Labor Conference, taking place in Geneva from  5 to 16 June 2023, will be a two-week-long discussion on a just transition, including a focus on sustainable industrial policies and on the importance of new technologies. There will be guidance coming that it will have been agreed by 187 member states, workers and employers.
  • We don’t want to recycle injustices and poor working conditions that exist in some sectors or countries today. What we want to make sure is that jobs in the future become better and decent. Workers have rights where there is a social dialogue between employers and workers and governments; social protection; good conditions at work and where everybody has an opportunity to support the transition to a more circular economy.