An inclusive workplace and business model generates innovative outputs and is more resilient to future chocks

Address by Ms Dagmar Walter, Director, ILO DWT/CO-New Delhi, as Panellist on The Future of Work and Skills in Making Global Goals Local Business event, Sri Lanka - UN Global Compact.

Statement | New Delhi, India | 28 October 2021
South Asia is a major supply chain hub and also tourist destination and has been especially hard hit by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Business closures, falling customer demand and supply chain bottlenecks, continue to have “ripple effects”. The crisis has exposed especially those in the lower tiers where Micro- and Small- Enterprises and informal workers are concentrated. Many markets now put higher demands on equity and sustainability throughout the supply chain.

The ILO Multinational Enterprise Deceleration, revised in 2017, includes due diligence in alignment with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and has specific focus on meaningful consultation with potentially affected groups and other relevant stakeholders including workers’ organizations.

Implementation of the UN Guiding Principles in business operations and relations, regardless of size, ownership, sector or country of operation, is essential for realizing and safeguarding the human, including labour rights of workers and businesses in South Asia.

Principle 12 speaks to the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, which encompasses eight ILO core conventions regarding freedom of association and right to collective bargaining; non-discrimination and equal pay for equal work; elimination of forced and child labour. This cause is taken forward through Alliance 8.7, which is promoting SDG 8 Target 7 and where Sri Lanka is a Pathfinder Country. It will be important for the country, including business, to recover the advances where they may have slipped back due to the impacts of the pandemic, and to find ways to progress in the months and years to come.

An inclusive workplace and business model always generates more innovative outputs and is more resilient to future chocks. Hence it is important for the private sector to reach out to people of all gender and sexual identity, people living with disabilities, or any marginalised groups. Inclusive policies will foster more tolerant work environment and lower violence and harassment, which all is conducive for a more productive business environment.

In fact, ILO’s work with businesses, in particular in South Asia, shows a strong correlation between better working conditions and higher productivity. The ILO Helpdesk for Business, provides guidance on how to better align business operations with international labour standards and build good industrial relations. One area that has gained a lot in importance is the need for adequate dispute resolution mechanisms.

Trade agreements & trade policies have become important tools to promote decent work and sustainable business, as called for in the ILO Centenary Declaration and Global Call to Action for a Human-centred recovery.

Further, developing skills and adapt to the digital economy and pathways for a just green transition will also be important for sustainability.

The importance of employability skills such as communication, digital skills, problem solving, or the so-called ‘ability to learn’ (learnability) have been highlighted as much as (if not more than) technical skills.

Multi-skilling of workers with a skillset that is relevant to multiple occupations within the same occupation cluster as opposed to a single occupation could provide the workers with flexibility they will need in the future.

The industry engagement in Sector Skills Councils in Sri Lanka is remarkably high and the high responsiveness of the vocational training sector for demand arising from such Skills Councils is a significant advantage. Widening this good practice to other economic sectors that are with high potential of productive future employment would be advantageous.

ILO recognizes the importance of establishing a sustainable and resilient business culture in Sri Lanka, specially through developing entrepreneurship among youth and women, empowering them to drive the country’s socio-economic progression.

Inclusivity in all dimensions is required. Thus skilling and engaging the vulnerable communities such as people with disabilities, migrants and children are amongst ILO’s prime focus.

As you know a crisis also creates numerous opportunities and ample space for innovation. Being the corporate leaders, the UNGC membership is well acquainted with the ways and means to diagnose such issues and explore new avenues for sustainable growth in business. It is our invitation to bring that expertise into the Global Compact Network, to find solutions for today’s global and local issues together with the development partners. The future of work in all dimensions will be dependent on how much the corporate world becomes responsive and responsible.

Thank you and I look forward engaging in the discussion and entertain any questions.