International Research Conference

Improving working conditions in small and medium enterprises

International experts, researchers and field practitioners are meeting at the ILO to discuss how investing in working conditions, safety and health and training can turn into increased competitiveness and performance and result in a win win scenario for small and medium enterprises in developing and transition economies.

Competitive private enterprise is the principal source of economic growth, wealth and jobs globally, and SMEs are a significant element of this. According to the ILO World of Work Report 2012, SMEs create most existing and new jobs worldwide. Bearing this in mind, strengthening the competitiveness of SMEs clearly has the potential to reap widespread benefits. Unfortunately, improvements in enterprise performance can be difficult to achieve and do not always translate into improved working conditions or sustainable livelihoods. This is especially evident in SMEs, where weaknesses in competitiveness, poor working conditions and low skill development prevail.

A central goal of ILO is to secure decent, safe and healthy, working conditions for all workers, as reflected in its Decent Work Agenda. This means leading the way in shaping policies and practices that promote the development of sustainable enterprises, particularly SMEs, that can compete, grow and create decent work opportunities.

As a complement to a right-based approach to achieving better working conditions, the ILO has implemented a number of programmes that point to the economic case for better working conditions, pointing to resulting increases in enterprise performance. However, for many, this win-win scenario is not convincing, with concerns over the cost of improved working conditions being the main barrier to buy-in. If ILO wishes to shift perspectives, from seeing improved working conditions as a business cost to seeing them as a business investment with productivity and competitiveness returns, it is clear that empirical evidence supporting the win-win scenario is needed.

The objective of the Conference

To inform the win-win debate in relation to SMEs, four ILO departments have come together to gather and critically examine the evidence on this. As part of this work, this international research conference, to take place in ILO Headquarters Geneva on May 9 and 10, 2013, will bring together independent researchers, institutions, field practitioners and ILO experts working in this field with the following objectives:
  1. To share and critically examine research findings, and identify relevant knowledge gaps on the linkages between working conditions and productivity, proposing future ILO research activities to address them;
  2. To identify potential improvements in ILO tools and interventions to address the needs of those working with SMEs in the field;
  3. To plan for the development, by the end of 2015, of an evidence-based intervention model that helps SMEs adopt practices that promote better productivity and working conditions on a scale that can make major contributions to economic development and the achievement of decent work.

Participants and desired inputs

Approximately 50 people will attend the conference and, in order to benefit from the range of skills, perspectives and opinions that participants have the conference will be divided between presentations, plenary discussions and group work.

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