This report commissioned by Education International provides a conceptual framework to understand how vocational education is positioned in many countries, and the different ways in which the relationship between vocational education and the structures of the labour market mediate the variable outcomes that vocational education graduates achieve. It demonstrates the unequal access to vocational education in low, medium and high income countries. The report uses the capabilities framework as developed by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum to underpin the notion of ‘productive capabilities’ in developing a conceptual basis for vocational education that supports social justice. It argues that strong public vocational education institutions are the anchor institutions of their communities that can support vocational education teachers in contributing to local social, economic and cultural development. It suggests a program of research for Education International in providing better understandings of vocational education in different contexts, to support Education International in working with social partners to strengthen vocational education’s role in developing inclusive and tolerant societies based on socially just and sustainable economic and social development.