SDGs in Industry 4.0 era: Action plan of 19 countries

SDGs in Industry 4.0 era: Action plan of 19 countries

Every country is at a different level of social, economic and technological development and the Government of each country strives to work in a direction to improve the living standard of the citizens of their country, though the speed at which this takes place differs, writes Dr Rajen Mehrotra.

In September 2015 at the United Nations (UN) Headquarters in New York, 193 member countries adopted the historic new agenda, entitled “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” and 169 targets with an objective of transforming the world. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. These 17 SDGs addressed the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice. These 17 SDGs are all interconnected, and in order to leave no one behind, it is important that each of the 193 member countries undertake efforts at achieving them by 2030.

When the 17 SDGs were adopted The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said “It is a roadmap to ending global poverty, building a life of dignity for all and leaving no one behind. It is also a clarion call to work in partnership and intensify efforts to share prosperity, empower people’s livelihoods, ensure peace and heal our planet for the benefit of this and future generations”. The 17 SDGs adopted are given in the annexure.

Every country is at a different level of social, economic and technological development and the Government of each country strives to work in a direction to improve the living standard of the citizens of their country, though the speed at which this takes place differs. Each country does strive to help the socially and economically weaker section to improve and also assists the citizens to lead a better social, economic and healthier life, reduce the disparity; at the same time the challenges that each country faces differs.

However, in each country the citizens, civil society, business and the Government needs to strive in tackling the problems relating to poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice and make all out efforts at achieving the 17 SDGs by 2030.

Industry 4.0

The fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) has taken further from what was achieved by the earlier three industrial revolution with the adoption of computers and automation and enhanced it with smart and autonomous systems fueled by data and machine learning including use of robots. As Industry 4.0 unfolds, computers are getting connected and are able to communicate with one another which can facilitate in making decisions without human involvement. Cyber-physical systems are a reality where humans and smart factories connect and communicate to each other via the Internet of Things and the Internet of Services, which makes Industry 4.0 possible and the smart factory a reality. It is also leading to real-time capability where data can be collected and analysed to provide insights immediately.

Industry 4.0 presents several challenges and opportunities to all the stake holders in a country and we need to strive at finding solutions to these challenges at the same time taking advantage of the opportunities in achieving SDGs. A major challenge that Industry 4.0 will throw up is changes in skill required for new type of employments; at the same time decline in prospects of employment for persons not having the new requisite skills. There are also opportunities wherein the benefits of Industry 4.0 could help in education, tele medicines, effective disaster response, etc.

Industry 4.0 is a reality and has entered the world of work and governance. We need to handle it in a manner, wherein it helps the country in achieving the 17 SDGs. We do find that in many countries of the world, activities are still by and large in the operating phase of industrial revolution two and three and the same will continue. Hence, while looking at SDGs in Industry 4.0 era, we will have to bear in mind the reality at which each of the 193 member countries of the world operate, and how the various stake holders can use Industry 4.0 for the benefit of the citizens of their country.

19 countries meet

The Association of Overseas Technical Cooperation and Sustainable Partnership (AOTS) of Japan sponsored by the Ministry of Health, Labour & Welfare, Government of Japan organized a Joint Study Workshop of Employers’ Organization of 19 countries on the “Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the era of Industry 4.0” from 13 to 15 January 2020 in Hanoi, Vietnam. There were 32 participants from the 19 countries (i.e. Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Korea, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Mexico, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam) that participated in this workshop. I was a participant in the workshop on behalf of the Indian Employer Organization (i.e. Employers’ Federation of India) invited by AOTS.

The objective of the workshop was to understand the approaches adopted by the 19 participating countries towards the SDGs and in the workshop evolve through the experience of the participants on what could be an approach at achieving these in the Industry 4.0 era. During the workshop it emerged that each of the 19 countries that participated in the workshop has one of the ministries or a Government agency as the focal point to plan , execute , monitor and document the countries progress with reference to achievement of each of the 17 SDGs , though the priority on each of these goals differed from country to country. Each of the 19 country participants presented the approach taken by their country. Noteworthily, The Government of Vietnam in 2017 had divided the 17 SDGs in four focal areas with a Vision statement for each, and is working in the direction of achievement of the Vision as stated by them. The details are given below.

The Government of Vietnam has worked out four focal areas and grouped the 17 SDGs and for each focal area developed a Vision Statement, which are as follows:

Focal area one: Investing in People covering SDGs 1,2,3,4,5& 6 with vision statement: Providing inclusive and equitable quality social services and social protection systems for people living in Vietnam to be healthy, educated and free of poverty and empowered to reach their full potential.

Focal area two: Ensuring climate resilience and environment sustainability covering SDGs 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15 with vision statement: Effectively responding to climate change and natural disasters, as well as sustainable managing resources and the environment.

Focal area three: Fostering prosperity and partnership covering SDGs 5, 8, 10, 12 and 17 with vision statement: Shifting to sustainable and productivity led growth model, as well as creating a fairer, more efficient and inclusive labour market that ensures decent work and opportunities for all.

Focal area four: Promoting justice, peace and inclusive governance covering SDGs 5, 10 and 16 with vision statement: Strengthening governance and adherence to the rule of law, ensuring respect for and the protection of human rights and freedom from discrimination, and moving towards a more just and inclusive society.

Action plan developed by 19 country participants

The 19 country participants during the workshop interacted and worked out a framework for actions that the Government, business and social activists can undertake for achieving the 17 SDGs and these are listed below:

SDG1: No poverty & SDG2: Zero hunger

(i) There is growing urban and non-urban poverty - the Government needs to provide subsidy to the targeted groups and also schemes to ensure zero hunger

(ii) The fourth industrial revolution would result in job displacement and there is need to preserve jobs for vulnerable groups which would involve skill development programme

(iii) The Government needs to establish a proper mechanism for management and disbursement of funds to the poor from taxes or other fund collected from corporations and individuals

(iv) The Government need to ensure sustainable food production and also ensure to provide nutritious food to all children below age five to eradicate malnutrition

(v) Community cultivation and community kitchens/app that helps collect left over food from restaurants and super markets before they lose their shelf life and dispersed to the needy

(vi) Ensure everyone gets two meals a day

SDG3: Good health and well being

(i) Child birth mortality rate and maternal mortality rate to be closely monitored, drastically reduced and extensively controlled

(ii) Increase in public health expenditure by each country from existing level, as it is a major need

(iii) Need to recognise allocation of funds for mental health, as fourth industrial revolution will lead to its increase

(iv) New initiatives for business transformation

(v) Business can provide online platforms /apps for employees’ health and well-being such as mental and physical consultations online

(vi) Need for an effective population control

(vii) Disclosure on the content of all eatable items

(viii) Education on health/using technology for imparting at an economical cost

SDG4: Quality education

(i) Need for free compulsory quality primary education

(ii) Less academic and more skill-based education

(iii) Produce more doers compared to administrators

(iv) Education and skill development should be aligned with the developments of the fourth industrial revolution

(v) Dual curriculum

(vi) Closer collaboration between industry and academia to ensure curriculum meets industry and business needs

(vii) Business to partner with government, educational institutions, vocational institutes and offer effective apprenticeships

(viii) Government should facilitate for developing affordable vocational/tertiary education infrastructure.

SDG5: Gender equality

(i) Women representation at the high /decision making level

(ii) Empowering gender equality for all

(iii) Reduce gender pay gap (equal pay for equal work)

(iv) Social safety security for the housewives

(v) Enhanced maternity leave benefit

(vi) Flexible working hours where feasible

(vii) Provide incentives and grants to women to enter gig economy (e-commerce)

(viii) Business can provide virtual workplaces / flexible work for women

(ix) Digital training for women

(x) Need for action rather than talk / social media campaigns with case examples of success

(xi) Need for a change in positive mind set of men, towards women

(xii) Ensuring inclusiveness of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT)

SDG6 Clean Water and Sanitation

(i) Wherever activities of business and domestic usage results in discharge of waste water and effluent into the water bodies, Government intervention is required to ensure compliance of standards on discharge. Also, industry and business to ensure compliance

(ii) Rainwater harvesting

(iii) Community toilets in non-urban areas where cost of constructing individual household toilet may be prohibitive

(iv) Protection and restoration of water related ecosystem

(v) Water and sanitation management through people participation

SDG7: Affordable and clean energy

(i) Reduce taxes for green enterprises

(ii) Encourage the use of renewable energy

(iii) Recycling

(iv) Smart cities

(v) Green architecture

SDG8 Decent Work and Economic Growth

(i) Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) management at work place. Need for awareness, training, policy guidelines, best practices

(ii) Empowering people who are physically challenged through skill development and providing for a suitably designed friendly work place for them

(iii) Flexible working hours

(iv) Social Security net – unemployment insurance for displaced workers

(v) Old age pension fund /old age saving scheme

(vi) Productivity linked performance pay

(vii) Ensure non exploitation of migrant workforce through memorandum of understanding between country of origin and destination

(viii) Restructure companies in line with new technologies

(ix) Digital evaluation of companies

SDG9 Industry Innovation and Infrastructure

(i) Reliable and continuous power and water supply at a reasonable price

(ii) Internet and other communication have to be available and affordable penetration has to be wide

(iii) Promote start up and entrepreneurship culture

(iv) Ensure to innovate continuously to be competitive and digital readiness for meeting challenges of fourth industrial revolution

(v) Create digital ecosystem to bring businesses together and share their experiences

(vi) Mechanism for easy access to capital /credit for micro, mini and small businesses.

SDG10: Reduced inequalities

(i) Fourth industrial revolution would result in income disparity between highly skilled and low skilled workers – reskilling and upskilling needed

(ii) Inclusive growth by empowering and promoting social and economic inclusion for all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion, economic or other status

SDG11: Sustainable cities

(i) Green and smart cities

(ii) Sustainable cities and communities

(iii) Urban planning, development plans

(iv) Integrated transportation system

(v) Create community events

(vi) Community child care centres and recreation centres

(vii) Social networking

(viii) Autonomous driving system

(ix) Government needs to ensure adequate, safe, affordable housing, transportation and basic services

SDG12: Responsible consumption

(i) Increased production which results in higher quantum of air emissions, effluent discharge and solid waste needs to be monitored for achieving reduced quantum from the past by the use of new technologies. Business and Government needs to partner in the same, coupled with incentives and penalties

(ii) Consumer awareness and education

(iii) Organic products/eco products

(iv) Imposition of penalty on unconsumed/wasted food

(v) Circular economy

(vi) Saving energy policy

(vii) Investment in latest technologies

(viii) Environment friendly technologies

SDG 13: Climate action

(i) Specialised ministry/agencies to manage environmental issues

(ii) Reduction of greenhouse gasses

(iii) Use of renewable energy

(iv) Waste management

(v) Supporting green jobs/businesses

(vi) Preserving forest coverage

(vii) Circular economy reduce, reuse and recycle/use of app to recover electronic wastes and clothes and others

(viii) Conserve water and move towards use of clean energy

(ix) Clean energy as means of transportation/electricity generated by wind and / or solar power

(x) Control carbon emissions/paying a price for carbon emissions

(xi) Ensuring green education and green business/as far as possible paperless functioning

SDG 14: Life below water

(i) Effluent/waste water management

(ii) Imposing fines on dumping waste in the sea/river/pond

(iii) Netting policies

(iv) Seasonal fishing policy

(v) Ocean acidification

(vi) Sustainable management of marine ecosystem

SDG 15: Life on land

(i) Declaring ecological critical areas

(ii) Conservation of the endangered species

(iii) Preservation of heritage

(iv) Preventing deforestation

(v) Promoting afforestation and use farmed timber only

SDG 16: Justice and peace

(i) Review and where possible reduce budget on defence spending

(ii) Revisiting/rationalising the justice system

(iii) Equal access and dispensation to justice

(iv) Members of the society should be equally treated before the law

(v) Judicial reforms to be visited/reviewed at regular intervals

(vi) Prevention of corruption/nepotism

SDG 17: Partnership for the Goals

(i) Collaboration among the ministries and agencies to ensure sustainable development at the national level

(ii) Create social dialogue platforms at company level

(iii) Collaboration with inter and regional partner for mutual development in the respective areas/creating memorandum of understanding /agreements

(iv) New initiatives to bring social partners together on technological issues, digital trainings, digital transformation of industries


The Millennium Summit of UN in 2000 came forward with eight international Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for the year 2015, and these have been followed by the 17 SDGs and each country has been working on them. In India at the Central Government level, NITI Aayog has been assigned the role of overseeing, reporting and monitoring the implementation of SDGs.

Each of the 19 countries that participated in the joint study workshop organised by AOTS of Japan from 13 to 15 January 2020 in Hanoi, Vietnam have been making efforts at achieving the 17 SDGs. The action plan developed by the participants in the joint study workshop is a broad framework of what the representatives of the employer organisations of the countries present perceived could be undertaken, and hence is not a thorough check list.

In each country, the Government have developed an action plan, allocated budget, and also seeks support / partnership from business, civil society and also if possible, support from rich countries, as the money and effort required is substantial. There is need both at the International Level and also at each country level to work out an “effective recognition and reward system" for all contributors to speed up implementation in the direction of achieving SDGs. There is also need in each country for the civil society, employer organisations trade unions and the Government to work together, to understand the challenges and opportunities emanating from Industry 4.0 and how they could be used in benefitting the achievement of the 17 SDGs by 2030.



Dr Rajen Mehrotra is Past President of Industrial Relations Institute of India (IRII), Former Senior Employers’ Specialist for South Asian Region with International Labour Organization (ILO) and Former Corporate Head of HR with ACC and Former Corporate Head of Manufacturing and HR with Novartis India. Email:

Published in February 2020 issue of Current Labour Reports and Arbiter.

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