ECOSOC Special Meeting

Navigating the Future of Work: A call for inclusive and sustainable solutions

In his address to the ECOSOC Special Meeting on “The Future of Work: towards a productive, inclusive and sustainable global society,” ILO Director-General, Gilbert F. Houngbo, explains how advancing decent work and social justice are pivotal to address the challenges and opportunities presented by technological advancements, demographic shifts, and the climate crisis.

Statement | 23 January 2024
Thank you, President,
Good morning to all,
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to begin by conveying my deepest consideration to the President of ECOSOC, Paula Narváez, and the Vice-President of ECOSOC, Mr Akan Rakhmetullin.

This Special Meeting of the Economic and Social Council focuses on issues close to the ILO’s foundation, our raison d’être: bringing countries, workers, and employers together to build a more inclusive and sustainable world through decent work and social justice for all.

Today, we know, and Jeffrey Sachs referred to it again just now, we face significant technological changes, demographic challenges, and an urgent need to address the climate crisis.

But with each of these changes, there are opportunities.

Let me start with technology.

We know that generative AI will affect blue-collar, white-collar and high-skilled jobs. But we also know from our research that the share of global employment that could be “augmented” by generative AI is much bigger than the share of jobs threatened by automation.

According to our estimates, between 10 to 13 per cent of jobs across all country income groups will be impacted.

This is why social protection and proper training are crucial if we are to support workers around the world.

Now, let's discuss demographic challenges.

To turn them into opportunities we need to create enough decent jobs for young people in growing societies, as well as for older workers in ageing societies.

Let me give you just one example:

The United Nations predicts a threefold increase in the working-age population in African LDCs and Haiti from 2023 to 2050.

This creates an opportunity for a demographic dividend, with a low dependency ratio providing space for economic growth and investment in education, health, and social protection systems.

Thirdly, the climate crisis.

We estimate that implementing the Paris Agreement on climate change can generate 24 million new jobs by 2030.

But it could also lead to the loss of 6 million jobs in resource-intensive industries.

So in these profound changes, we must ensure that no one is left behind.

A just transition involves making use of the transformation to maximize decent work opportunities; reduce inequalities; promote social justice for all; and support industries, workers and communities negatively impacted by these transformations.

So, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Despite the challenges before us, there are opportunities we can harness.

First, we need a workforce that is adaptable, resilient, and has the technical and soft skills to address these challenges.

Governments, educational institutions, the private sector, the social partners and individuals must work together to provide accessible and flexible learning opportunities, enabling everyone to contribute to economic and social development.

Second, we need to prioritize creating decent jobs as a fundamental step for better social justice.

While our estimates for labour market indicators such as unemployment are positive, the qualitative aspects like informal work and working poverty present worrying challenges.

Third, we need inclusivity and equal access.

This means providing digital infrastructure, training, and job opportunities for women, youth, people with disabilities, and marginalized communities.

Inclusivity will build a stronger job market and more stable societies.

To make this work, we must encourage social dialogue.

Policymakers should anticipate changes, create supportive legal frameworks, and strengthen institutions.

This includes good labor laws, extensive social protection for all workers, and effective dialogue among governments, employers, workers, and stakeholders.

The changing world also calls for updates to international labor standards.

In this context, I would like to mention that the ILO is right now working on setting standards to provide recommendations for platform workers, following discussions in 2025 and 2026.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our objective is crystal clear: to tackle the challenges ahead, we must prioritize lifelong learning, decent work and inclusive institutions.

We are ready to intensify our contributions in this social endeavour.

We have the chance to reshape the world we live in – economically, socially and environmentally.

Let us take this opportunity and move forward to build equitable and resilient societies.

Thank you so much.