On Singapore’s Foreign Ministry webpage is a statement about Singapore’s commitment to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. It says, inter alia,

“It comprises the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which apply to all countries in order to mobilise efforts to end poverty, fight inequalities, and tackle climate change.”

It also reiterates Singapore’s commitment:

“Singapore supports the 2030 Agenda. As a small country with limited land and no natural resources, Singapore understands the challenges of sustainable development well. This is why we participated actively in the negotiations on the 2030 Agenda and continue to support efforts to implement and achieve the SDGs globally.”

and that

“Despite the current challenges posed by COVID-19, we have redoubled efforts to achieve the SDGs by seizing this opportunity to pursue an inclusive and sustainable recovery.”

Development calls for a balanced and integrated approach. However, one criticism applicable to many countries is the practice of  cherry-picking goals based on existing state priorities. Singapore can be accused of doing the same, especially in the way it seems to abstain from engaging with SDGs and targets that do not promote its political and economic priorities.

One such area that Singapore has historically turned a blind eye to is the realm of migration management. Singapore hosts roughly 1 million low wage migrant workers, roughly a quarter of our working population. Their experiences, particularly of Bangladeshi and Tamil work permit holders here, raise serious doubts not only about how much progress there has been towards relevant SDGs (poverty, inequality, decent work, inclusiveness, justice) but about the true degree of commitment to those goals.

In this report by TWC2, we take a magnifying glass to this issue of declared commitment on one hand and the lived experiences of Bangladeshi and Tamil low-wage workers on the other, drawn from a scene-setting survey (about 200 responses) and qualitative interviews. The picture that emerges is not flatterring.

Key recommendations identified in this report include providing more rights to migrant workers – especially the right to change employers without need to obtain employers’ consent– and reassessing the state priorities of Singapore both in terms of sustainable development and migration management.

The PDF report (24 pages) can be downloaded by clicking the link at right.