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The pandemic putting the light on social and economic sustainability

23 June 2021

The pandemic putting the light on social and economic sustainability


At Arbetsförmedlingen, the Swedish Public Employment Service, the Corona pandemic has created an unusually high workload and stress, at the same time there is an experience of confidence and faith in the realization that our operations is a crucial building block for the future of our customer groups. It has never felt more important to work for a sustainable labour market development than now!


In May 2021, the Arbetsförmedlingen had just over 640,000 registered jobseekers, of which 32 per cent had been registered for up to 2 years. In Sweden, 6,500 companies went bankrupt in 2020.


Unemployment is 7,9 per cent. Forecasts predict that long-term unemployment risks rising further during the year, even if total unemployment is expected to decrease. In 2021, Arbetsförmedlingen plans to strengthen the efforts for the long-term unemployed by raising the activity levels for jobseekers who are not included in the various active labour market programmes (ALMP). In a transformed labour market in the future it is important to acknowledge the importance of lifelong learning of the labour force. More people are going into vocational education and the regular educational system to acquire skills to match the needs in the labour market.


Globally, the equivalent of 400 million full-time jobs are gone and almost 2 billion people are at risk of being pushed into extreme poverty. The Corona pandemic has shaken the business and working life in Sweden, just like in the rest of the world. 


Agenda 2030 - Sustainable Development Goals in Sweden


The Swedish Government has committed itself to an ambitious political goal for sustainability in order to contribute to the Agenda's implementation in Sweden. The Government has stated that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) will be included in all policy areas and that Sweden will be a leader in the implementation of the Agenda 2030. The ambition is expressed as a gradual transformation of Sweden as a modern and sustainable welfare state, nationally and as part of the global system.


In June 2018, the government presented an action plan which described key measures for sustainable development that were expected to yield results and effects in the coming years. Focus areas are:


●an equal and gender-equal society

●sustainable societies

●a socially beneficial, circular and green economy

●a strong business community with sustainable businesses

●a sustainable and healthy food chain

●strengthen knowledge and innovation


The governmental agencies have been identified as important actors that must guarantee sustainable development in society for and with the citizens. Based on the respective core assignments, in collaboration with other authorities, business and civil society and with a strengthened element of innovation, the Swedish agencies can and must strengthen sustainable development for the benefit of citizens in general and specific target groups in particular.


Status of the Agenda 2030 in Sweden


Statistics Sweden's (SCB) report Implementation of Agenda 2030 in Sweden - Statistical situation in 2019 shows that Sweden does not achieve several of the national climate and environmental goals with current instruments and measures, which includes related goals in Agenda 2030. Greenhouse gases, the marine environment and the loss of biodiversity are some of the biggest problem areas identified.


The report shows that no major changes have taken place compared with 2015. Several of the challenges remain. Swedish consumption drives emissions abroad and thus counteracts the SDG of sustainable consumption patterns.


Sweden's challenges are summarized in three main points


●Inequality between groups does not decrease but increases in several areas.

●Most of the national environmental quality objectives (which are the national contribution to SDG 13) are not possible to achieve with currently existing and decided measures.

●Violence and violations do not decrease in Swedish society


Sustainability at Arbetsförmedlingen


Arbetsförmedlingen has decided to work for sustainability through its core mission and contribute to Sweden's implementation of Agenda 2030 as a governmental agency. In support of the work, there is a sustainability policy that establishes the ambition to start integrating sustainability into the entire operations of the agency. 


The sustainability policy encapsulates an integrated concept of sustainability that includes increased societal benefits for vulnerable target groups, financial responsibility through sustainable procurement routines and work against irregularities. As well as the responsibility as an employer for more than 10,000 people and the internal work to reduce the agency's climate impact through business trips. The policy document describes the meaning of the three sustainability dimensions social, economic and environmental sustainability for Arbetsförmedlingen's operations and activities.


The policy is based on an analysis which states that the agency has its greatest impact on sustainable development in social sustainability, i.e. the societal benefits for jobseekers, employers and partners. The basic task is to implement labour market, gender equality and disability policy decisions and commitments, which in turn can be expressed as Arbetsförmedlingen being an agency with a sustainability mission. The impact is also evident in the responsibility of Arbetsförmedlingen as an employer for existing and future employees.  Arbetsförmedlingen is one of the biggest governmental agencies in Sweden with over 10 000 employees in all of Sweden.


A strategic plan describes how a first briefing on sustainability activities can start based on the policy decision. The plan covers seven target areas from management, follow-up, communication and reporting of indicators that have a bearing on the sustainability results of the agency.


It is the responsibility of all managers to integrate the three sustainability dimensions into their own operations, plan relevant activities and competence-enhancing initiatives and contribute to follow-up in the regular reporting cycle during the year. The focus is on competence-enhancing initiatives, raising ambition, and a developed ability to handle goal conflicts in the sustainability work.


Arbetsförmedlingen has a sustainability strategist with responsibility for actuating, supporting and following the overall sustainability work and Agenda 2030 in the agency. The work involves a lot of internal communication about goals and activities in the various sub-activities, active external monitoring of the public debate about sustainability, competence building around governance issues and levels of ambition. Part of the work is to identify internal ambassadors for sustainability issues, network and engage managers and leaders with practical support materials.


Sustainable procurement


Public procurement and category management of government procurement is one of the most powerful tools for achieving good sustainability effects. Arbetsförmedlingen procures goods and services, such as labour market training and interpreting services, for SEK 5 billion annually, which makes it possible to positively influence the market. Procurement has been identified as a focus area for Arbetsförmedlingen’s sustainability grant including to show the importance of being an exemplary procurer by setting relevant requirements for suppliers. A goal-oriented work has been initiated to integrate requirements and facts regarding the three sustainability dimensions in the various product categories. One area of development is to broaden the requirements to more social dimensions, such as labour law perspectives like employment conditions with subcontractors and equality conditions that concern accessibility for all functional variations in the design of the services. Environmental requirements are already integrated in several purchasing documents.




There is still no requirement for sustainability reporting for governmental agencies in Sweden, but the current assessment is that the Government and the Parliament will want to follow the work more closely in the future. Not least since Parliament adopted a bill on a bound goal for the Agenda 2030 work in December of 2020. According to the decision, the Government shall present the development of the Agenda 2030 work in Sweden every two years to the Parliament. To facilitate the internal anchoring of what is Arbetsförmedlingens's overall sustainability contribution, responsible strategists have compiled yearly sustainability reports that highlight the agency’s contribution to sustainable development and how it connects to the agency's prioritized Agenda 2030 goals.



Agenda 2030 at Arbetsförmedlingen





Agenda 2030 at Arbetsförmedlingen


Arbetsförmedlingen has identified eight SDGs particularly relevant for our operations.   


SDG 4 Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all - Arbetsförmedlingen meets the labour market's different educational needs and provides special support for people with disabilities


SDG 5 Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls - The agency's internal gender equality work must ensure that everyone has equal opportunities in all parts of the operations.


SDG 8 Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all - The agency's overall mission and core activities fall within the target area. A well-functioning labour market contributes to economic growth and increased employment.


SDG 10 Reduce inequality within and among countries - Arbetsförmedlingen contributes within the framework of its assignment within the Introduction Programme for newly immigrants, within the work with rehabilitation, with the functional impaired and with national minorities.


SDG 12 Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns - The agency´s procurement routines play an important role in the work to achieve sustainable consumption and production in society. Arbetsförmedlingen also contribute through purchasing choices and how the agency act in everyday life.


SDG 13 Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts – Arbetsförmedlingen’s environmental work must contribute to the work of converting to sustainable development for the planet.


SDG 16 Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels - Arbetsförmedlingen contributes through responsible management of the agency. Arbetsförmedlingen works with accessibility for everyone, according to the principle of openness, with opportunities for reconsideration and appeal, and conduct systematic work against incorrect payments and undue influence / corruption.


SDG 17 Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development - Arbetsförmedlingen contributes to the development by strengthening international cooperation between public employment services inside and outside the EU and by actively cooperating with other labour market authorities.  


Collaboration for efficiency and co-learning


The Swedish governmental agencies contribute to the national implementation of Agenda 2030 within the framework of their core missions. Many are at the beginning of a systematic sustainability work and need to develop policy and strategic materials. The need to learn from others who have the same challenges, to collaborate and share insights was the basis for the formation of a new network in 2017. More than 80 Director Generals (DG) of Swedish governmental agencies have signed a letter of intent to work with Agenda 2030 and integrate sustainability into their operations. The network includes county administrative boards and universities in the active collaboration. The network is coordinated by a governmental agency for a couple of years and a steering group with 10 DGs has been appointed to lead the operational work. An annual forum brings together all members for joint discussions. This year, the DG-Forum took place digitally on 21 April with the theme Beyond the Pandemic - Agenda 2030 as leverage for reconstruction.


A labour market agency of the future


Arbetsförmedlingen has begun extensive reform work with 2026 as the horizon. In the work, sustainability in balance has been raised as one of three guiding stars.


Arbetsförmedlingen integrates sustainability work into operations and thereby contributes to sustainable development in Sweden and the countries in which the agency operates. In order to achieve and maintain sustainable development, Arbetsförmedlingen takes responsibility for the three perspectives: economic, social and environmental sustainability and for the three perspectives to be in balance with each other. 


Economic sustainability means that financial resources are used in an efficient and legally secure manner and information is handled in secure environments. Within the framework of social sustainability, Arbetsförmedlingen works for an inclusive society with sustainable growth, full employment and decent working conditions, completely in line with SDG 8 in Agenda 2030. Environmental sustainability is achieved by the agency in taking responsibility to reduce environmental and climate impact.


Arbetsförmedlingen is facing an exciting future with a focus on digital services that make the services geographically independent, accessible to more people and increasing accessibility to self-service (tools). Arbetsförmedlingen continues to contribute to sustainable labour market development with our daily work and increases our pace of development to focus on how we want the future labour market to work for our target groups. This is very important work for the whole of Sweden. A sustainable change in the labour market is a prerequisite for achieving the goals in Agenda 2030.


Author: Ms Mai TERRAS, Sustainability strategist at Arbetsförmedlingen