Political and opinion leaders from around the globe will meet in Lisbon, Portugal from 31 October to 2 November 2007 to discuss the role of decent work as the key to economic, social and environmental sustainability and a fair and inclusive globalization. Among the topics to be addressed at the Forum are the challenges of skills development, the upgrading of informal economies, migration for work, extending social protection, overcoming disadvantage and discrimination, and ways to improve policy coherence among international organizations. Here are a series of questions and answers about the Forum and the issues to be discussed there.
What is the ILO Forum on Decent Work for a Fair Globalization about and why is it important?
This will be one of the most substantive and wide-ranging discussions on fair and inclusive globalization and decent work among representatives of governments, labour and employers as well as leaders from parliaments, academia and civil society since the report of the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization in 2004 (Note 1). It reflects the growing political and economic priority being given to building a globalization that is fair, that expands opportunities, reduces inequalities and answers people’s demands for the opportunity for decent work. There is a growing sense that globalization can be changed and shaped for the better. The solutions need to take account of the specifics of particular countries. However, there are common principles from which all countries can work and many common issues to be addressed – respect for core labour standards, expanding social security, a framework for managed labour migration, education and training and the school-to-work transition, jobs for young women and men and upgrading the informal economy. All these issues are on the Forum agenda.
Why is dialogue so important?
The Word Commission report launched an international discussion on a fair and equitable globalization and received the support of many national, regional and global forums. Since the publication of the report, there has been some progress, but the road ahead will be long. Strong processes of dialogue are needed to bring different parties together to shape inclusive responses. The ILO is a tripartite organization – with representatives of governments, employers and workers – built on dialogue. But it is also key to put that dialogue to work in a broader context to promote decent work for all. As such, the Forum will attract Parliamentarians, members of civil society, NGOs, local authorities, political leaders and opinion shapers from around the globe. They are coming to Lisbon to find ways to work together in advancing decent work for a fair globalization.
In the three years since the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization has there been progress toward making globalization fair and more balanced?
While the inadequate governance of globalization, which so concerned the Commission persists, there is nevertheless progress to report in a number of specific areas – core labour standards, corporate social responsibility, global framework agreements, UN reform, and a multilateral framework for labour migration. More is needed. Nevertheless, while the global economic system is well entrenched, the world lacks a 21st century global social system. There are ethical, social and governance vacuums. The concepts of fair globalization and decent work fill all three. We must stimulate policymakers in the world of work to mainstream a reflex of decent work in policy making – that is, a focus on rights, employment, social protection and social dialogue.
What about the working poor and others who have jobs but live on very low incomes. Are some of the benefits of globalization trickling along to those who need it desperately?
The picture remains mixed. While some countries have reduced the actual number of working poor, the number of people living in extreme poverty remains high in absolute terms and isn’t declining in Africa. While growth has been an important factor in poverty reduction, it has not translated into adequate job creation or led to the creation of jobs of a sufficient level or value. What’s more, the income gap between the rich and the poor is widening and the slow growth in formal employment is leaving billions of workers in informal economies (Note 2). To make globalization fairer we must promote more broadly our Decent Work Agenda. Coherent and focused Decent Work country programmes can facilitate convergence between public and private initiatives and help integrate Decent Work objectives into national development policies.
Economic globalization is a fact, but the social policies remain local and national. How can this trend be changed?
The Forum will address the issue of policy coherence in the international system and discuss how governments and parliaments can best move forward towards greater policy coherence of their countries’ positions in international organizations. One recent example over the past year is that UN organizations, the WTO and International Financial Institutions have been working with the ILO on a Toolkit for Mainstreaming Employment and Decent Work. This spring, the Toolkit won endorsement at the highest level by the UN System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) chaired by Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.
The Toolkit is designed to help organizations throughout the multilateral system assess and improve employment and decent work outcomes of their own policies, programmes and activities. More particularly, it encourages agencies to formulate and implement time-bound action plans to promote the goals of full and productive employment and decent work for all.
What can be expected from this Forum?
The potential for synergies between actors and existing networks around an agenda of decent work and a fair globalization is very large. Indeed no one has all the answers. The ILO Forum will provide a unique space for debate and interaction on how to take forward this policy agenda. The discussions will connect the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda to the wider topic of shaping a fair globalization. For example, globalization places a high premium on education and skills. How can we improve employability and bridge the existing knowledge gaps? Other important challenges include upgrading work and enterprises in the informal economy, securing the benefits of migration and diminishing the risks of worker mobility, and creating more decent jobs for young people. What’s more, 80 per cent of the world’s workers have little or no social security. So the Forum will discuss how we can move towards a global social floor. The Forum will also provide a point of departure for action. Parliamentarians, central banks, international and regional organizations, civil society, and academics all have distinctive contributions to make. The objective is to create synergies around our tripartite constituents for stronger national and international action for decent work and a fair globalization.
Note 1 – A fair globalization: Creating opportunities for all, Report of the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization, International Labour Office, Geneva, 2004.
Note 2 – See Decent work for sustainable development, Director-General’s introduction to the International Labour Conference, ILC 96-2007/Report I (A).