Trade union update on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) indicator-setting process

The Inter-Agency Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG) was set up by the United Nations to develop and implement the global indicator framework for the 2030 Agenda. It met for the sixth time in Manama, Bahrain on 11-14 November 2017. The Trade Union Development Cooperation Network has been following this work with intent.

As has become common practice, the IAEG met in a closed format of IAEG members only (excludes non-member governments, UN agencies, civil society, etc) for two days (11-12 November 2017) where it took decisions on various agenda points.

The closed meeting was followed by a two day open format meeting (13-14 November 2017) during which these decisions were communicated to the broader community invested in the IAEG’s work. During the session between stakeholders and the IAEG co-chairs (Mexico and Tanzania), civil society groups requested that this format be reconsidered to allow non-IAEG members to actually input into the decision-making process.

While there were some notable decision points to emerge from the meeting, the overall agenda of the sixth IAEG was geared to best practice sharing and learning across the various communities to be involved in SDG monitoring. This included presentations on efforts to further develop methodological guidance for certain indicators, case studies on data flow/aggregation up to the global level, and experience sharing on reporting on SDG implementation at national, regional and global levels. All documents and background for the meeting are available here.

The decisions made at the meeting were primarily in the tier classification area of work. As a reminder, the tier classifications signify the readiness of an indicator to be universally monitored. Tier I indicators are indicators that have an established methodology for data collection and for which data can be collected in the majority of UN member countries. Tier II indicators are indicators with an established methodology for data collection but have gaps in data coverage in UN member countries. Tier III indicators are indicators with no established or agreed methodology. While the tier classifications should be a purely objective exercise there is a very strong political element which member states have been leveraging to impact the classifications. This is particularly important with respect to Tier III indicators, which risk being removed entirely if no advancement or agreement is reached on the methodologies.

The IAEG organised the tier reclassifications into two groupings—those that shift between Tiers I and II (either direction) and those that move out of Tier III (typically at the request of the custodian agency). Negatively, though not overly concerningly, a number of relevant indicators were demoted from Tier I to Tier II on account of data coverage. Notably these were the indicators on teachers (4.c.1), forced labour (8.7.1), frequency of fatal/non-fatal workplace injuries (8.8.1) and labour share of GDP (10.4.1). There is no great risk to these indicators and the shift in classification simply suggests that the custodian agency/ies need to roll-out the agreed methodologies in more countries. All indicators which moved between Tiers I and II can be found here.

More positively, however, the indicator on assessing fundamental freedoms (16.10.1) to which the ITUC has contributed to in collaboration with OHCHR and ILO has moved out of Tier III into Tier II and its roll-out/implementation can now begin. All Tier III reclassifications can be found here.

The other decisions came on three proposed ‘annual refinements’. As a reminder, refinements cannot fundamentally change the spirit of an indicator but rather, are generally intended to add greater precision to the already agreed indicator, like specifying a unit of measurement or an editorial change. The refinements for this meeting can be found here.

As usual an ongoing work plan of the IAEG was shared, it can be found here. There are some very important efforts to note for the coming months and presumably years of the IAEG’s work. This includes:

  1. consultation on Tier III work plans;
  2. consultation on proposed additional indicators;
  3. begin a comprehensive review of indicators including refinements and deletions;
  4. continue to work on improving data availability of Tier I and II indicators;
  5. establish mechanism for discussion on disaggregation;
  6. continue work of three working groups;
  7. develop a doc on best practices for data flows;
  8. hold meeting in March 2018 and 4th qtr. 2018.

The ITUC will remain involved in this work at multiple levels from the IAEG itself to the work going on at custodian agency level to advance and agree relevant indicators.

Further information: