Artikel (07/03/2005)

Sustainable development: production patterns and the human capital

This Working Paper describes, with a sustainable development approach, the relationships between the production patterns' evolution and the state of the human capital in Belgium with an international perspective. Human capital is defined here as occupational and environmental health, as well as knowledge and capacities. The Driving forces-Pressure-State-Impact-Response framework is used to understand and analyse these relationships. The Paper also presents the political initiatives developed to promote more sustainable production patterns and to strengthen the human capital.

The originality of this Paper inside the sustainable development field is to look at the relationships between the production patterns and the human capital rather than the environment. The human capital is at the core of this work, because humans are crucial for enterprises' production activities: enterprises are made by humans and need labour force in order to provide goods and services for human needs. But sometimes this has unsustainable human's health cost. The Paper shows that, though some evolutions in the methods and techniques used by the enterprises promote sustainable development, other evolutions are worrying and degrade the human capital. They have consequences on personal development, public finances and enterprises' productivity, affecting thus the whole field of development.

Chapter 1 gives the definitions of production patterns and economic, human and environmental capitals. The importance of the production patterns in sustainable development is explained. It also explains the relevance for sustainable development of this paper and describes the Driving forces-Pressure-State-Impact-Response framework.

Chapter 2, dealing with the driving forces defines the concept of production model and describes the production model that is currently widespread. This model is based on the "just in time model". It has various characteristics influencing the use of production factors and the state of the human capital. These characteristics include the increase of the complexity of products and of the recourse to subcontracting networks as well as the increase in working at high speed and to tight deadlines.

Chapter 3 explains the pressures caused by these production model’s characteristics on the capitals and shows various trends in the use of the capitals. First, the use of human capital is described through the trends in employment (rate of employment and types of contracts) and their effects on the social inequalities. Second, the use of various elements of the environmental capital such as energy and materials are summarized. Third, some trends in the use of economic (physical and financial) capital are described.

Chapter 4 describes changes in the state of the human capital, resulting from the pressures explained above. Three aspects of the human capital are examined: the environmental heath, the occupational health and the knowledge and capacities. The paper explains which characteristics of the present production model influence these three elements and how they influence them.

Chapter 5 presents the responses brought to reverse the unsustainable trends described in the previous chapters. It presents the main policies acting on the sustainable production patterns and on the three examined aspects of the state of the human capital: environmental health, occupational health, knowledge and capacities. These policies are described at world, EU and Belgian levels.

Chapter 6, the conclusion, synthesizes some worrying trends in the state of the human capital due to our production patterns. It also makes some recommendations to improve policy-making dealing with the relationships between production patterns and human capital.

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