A Social Footprint of Nations: A Comparative Study of the Social Impact of Work

  • Ali Alsamawi
  • Darian McBain
  • Joy Murray
  • Manfred Lenzen
  • Kirsten S. Wiebe
Part of the Environmental Footprints and Eco-design of Products and Processes book series (EFEPP)


Work is essential for most people to live a full and complete life. However, far from being an enjoyable pursuit, many people find work places them in vulnerable and even life threatening positions. More than half of the developing world’s workers (approximately 1.5 billion people) are classified as being in vulnerable employment, trapped in a cycle where low incomes limit the ability to invest in family and future generation’s health and education. No standard footprint methodology has yet been adopted to measure a nation’s social impact of work in a similar way to how environmental footprints measure a nation’s impact on the environment. Here we develop a method to measure the social footprint of nations by compiling eight indicators, ranging from employment to income to days lost due to accidents. We compare these data for the average worker across developed and developing nations. Our results demonstrate that as countries develop, work domestically has fewer negative social impacts and more benefits to individuals. However, as countries develop they also import more negative social impacts through global trade. This leads to developed nations having two very different social footprints of trade—one for domestic workers and one for international labour embedded in its imports. The development of a replicable and comparable social footprint methodology contributes to our understanding of issues surrounding inequality, the social impact of work, how to measure social impact and how we can communicate complex messages around embedded labour. More than half of the developing world’s workers are classified as being in vulnerable employment, trapped in a cycle where low incomes limit the ability to invest in family and future generations’ health and education. Empowering policy makers and business to make choices that mitigate some of these impacts through developing and communicating numerically sound information is a priority to address global inequality. Current measurement techniques vary and lessons learned from having divergent methodologies in environmental footprinting indicate that a robust social footprinting methodology is required. We introduce a methodology to create social footprints of nations measuring the social impact of work embedded in global trade. We show that as countries develop, problematic labour impacts are outsourced to developing countries.


Supply Chain Social Impact International Labour Organisation Sustainability Assessment Secure Supply Chain 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ali Alsamawi
    • 1
  • Darian McBain
    • 2
  • Joy Murray
    • 1
  • Manfred Lenzen
    • 1
  • Kirsten S. Wiebe
    • 3
  1. 1.School of PhysicsUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Sustainable DevelopmentThai Union GroupBangkokThailand
  3. 3.Department of Energy and Process EngineeringNorwegian University of Science and TechnologyTrondheimNorway

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