ILO’s policy dialogue reveals potential to promote the social and solidarity economy in Thailand

The ILO convened a policy dialogue on the social and solidarity economy’s contribution to decent work and sustainable development on December 15, 2023. The meeting provided an opportunity to review the workplan for the study on the Social and Solidarity Economy in Thailand.

News | 18 December 2023
The participants in the policy dialogue on the social and solidarity economy (SSE) included representatives from the Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, National Innovation Agency, Office of the National Economic and Social Development Council, Office of Social Enterprise Promotion, Social Security Office, employers’ and workers’ organizations, researchers, and project steering committee members.

In his opening speech Mr. Kelvin Sergeant, Specialist on Job Creation and Enterprise Development, noted the timeliness of the study given the global momentum on the social and solidarity economy. Mr. Sergeant remarked that the SSE is an inclusive concept that is aligned with the Thailand’s sufficiency economy philosophy, and national government priorities such as the promotion of a bio-circular-green economy (BCG) model.

ILO Project Manager Ms. Heejin Ahn, informed the participants about the definition of the social and solidarity economy in the Resolution concerning decent work and the social and solidarity economy adopted at the 110th International Labour Conference (ILC). She emphasized that a set of values and principles give coherence to the SSE. Furthermore, Ms. Ahn noted that the UN Resolution “Promoting the Social and Solidarity Economy for Sustainable Development” adopted in April 2023 called for Member States to advance the SSE in its policies and programs. Ms. Ahn informed the participants about the objective as informing and creating policy dialogue on the contributions of the social and solidarity economy to sustainable development in Asia and the Pacific region.

Mr. Akkanut Wantanasombut, researcher at Institute of Asian Studies at Chulalongkorn University and national consultant for the study presented the conceptual framework of the social and solidarity economy, historical origins, and variations used in different parts of the world. He noted that while the term “social and solidarity economy” may be new in Thailand, it is aligned, and is similar to concepts such as grassroots, sufficiency and circular economy in Thailand.

Mr. Wantanasombut remarked that the SSE provides a good framework to understand the types of entities that prioritize and benefit the people and the environment over profits, vis-a-vis their principles and values. Mr. Wantanasombut remarked that the social and solidarity economy landscape in Thailand is comprised of cooperatives, community enterprises, social enterprises, foundations, associations, and self-help groups in both formal and informal economies. He noted that the current legal and policy landscape is fragmented, where each type of SSE entity is administered under different Ministries and Departments. Underlining the need for more and better coordination, he noted the development of framework policy and legislation may help overcome this fragmented approach.

Mr. Wantanasombut added that while cooperatives have a long and rich history in Thailand, legislation can be revised to make way for emerging types and sectors such as workers’ or platform cooperatives beyond traditional sectors (agricultural, saving and credit, fisheries). Mr. Wantanasombut cited the Worker Cooperative Act of Japan, enacted in 2020, as a good example that gives workers cooperatives recognition and enables them to register as cooperatives with legal backing. He informed the participants of the Social and Solidarity Economy Studies Centre and SSE Consortium that raise awareness and promote the social and solidarity economy in Thailand.

A round of questions and comments followed. Participants showed support for the study and in its follow-ups in Thailand. Their suggestions included developing a clear, well-defined scope and objective for the study with concrete recommendations. The participants also shared some examples worth noting, such as the Employers’ Confederation of Thailand supporting informal workers in partnership with civil society organizations and networks to set up marketing channels to sell their products. A trade union representative also shared their initiatives to support community-led projects such as organic farmers’ groups. The trade union representative stressed the need to upgrade the skills and extend occupational safety and health training, while promoting labour standards in and through the SSE.

Participants advised the study to focus on ways to ensure long-term sustainability of the SSE entities and identify challenges and opportunities for the SSE entities to scale-up. They also encouraged the research to explore how to best engage youth through introducing the concept of the SSE in the curricula and looking at the SSE’s role in facilitating access to social security for informal workers. Finally, participants advised the study to look at the SSE’s role in emerging sectors such as platform and care economies.

In conclusion, Ms. Jittima Srisuknam, Programme Officer for ILO Bangkok highlighted the timeliness of this study, given the Thailand’s new Decent Work Country Programme 2023-27. Ms. Srisuknam shared that the follow-up initiatives from this project could respond to needs of underserved and marginalized communities. She notified the participants of the validation workshop for the study is scheduled for early March 2024.

The meeting is part of the Strengthening the Social and Solidarity Economy in Asia – Phase 2 project which aims to inform and create policy dialogue on the contributions of the SSE to decent work and sustainable development among policymakers, workers’ and employers’ organizations and development practitioners in five countries in Asia (Cambodia, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Thailand, and Vietnam). The project outputs and outcomes are aligned with the Resolution concerning decent work and the social and solidarity economy adopted at the 110th International Labour Conference in June 2022, and UN Resolution on Promoting the Social and Solidarity Economy for Sustainable Development, adopted by the General Assembly on 18 April 2023. The project deliverables will also be contributing to the implementation of the ILO’s office-wide strategy and action plan on decent work and the social and solidarity economy, endorsed by the 346th session of the ILO Governing Body in November 2022.