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World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization


Why establish a World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization?    During the past decade there has been much discussion and controversy over the impact of global economic integration. While increased trade and foreign direct investment have undoubtedly brought benefits, these are unevenly spread, with some countries and segments of the population clearly missing out. New technology, in particular the Internet, has created opportunities for many. But because less-developed countries have little part in this technological revolution, it has aggravated the feeling of a growing gap between the richest and poorest parts of the world. Moreover, 1.2 billion people remain mired in poverty, living on under $1 a day. And others, both in the developed and developing world, have struggled to cope with the changes brought by globalization.

Such inequalities have led some to question global economic integration. Others, however, argue that the way forward involves ensuring that globalization delivers gains to more people in more places. If this is to happen, it is necessary to move away from polemics over globalization itself and towards a better understanding of how the process affects people and their families. In addition, an effort needs to be made to build consensus among different actors at national and international level. The ILO, the only international agency whose members are represented by governments, employers and unions, has a long tradition of seeking shared solutions. It was in this spirit that the ILO’s Governing Body agreed on the creation of a high-level commission to report on the social dimension of globalization.
What is the social dimension of globalization?    When looking at the impact of globalization, the tendency has been to concentrate on economic indicators, tariff levels and flows of trade and investment between countries. But these only tell part of the story. Behind the statistics are working people and their families, for whom globalization brings insecurities as well as opportunities. The unprecedented economic and technological change of recent decades has transformed lives and created new social landscapes. There has been an impact on relationships within families, among workers and between employees and management. The rapid dissemination of information and the growth of a global media industry can affect people’s sense of identity and lead to an erosion of social solidarity and cultural diversity. At the same time, they can spread democratic values and help promote understanding.
As a result, a full picture of globalization includes a range of issues related to the way people live, work and feel about their world. Access to decent work, education, security, democratic rights and a sense of belonging to communities and societies are all part of the social dimension of globalization.
Why the concern about the social dimension of globalization?    There are those who argue that globalization is essentially an economic process and should be allowed to proceed unfettered. This view holds that other policies, such as education, social security and poverty alleviation, have little to do with the globalization process and should be kept separate. Experience has shown, however, that this is not the case. Social infrastructure, including education, health, social welfare and legal and administrative systems, all play key roles in deciding whether countries and their people can take advantage of opportunities provided by globalization. Moreover, the legitimacy of global integration depends on people having a say in the process and also seeing tangible benefits in their everyday lives.
What can a World Commission contribute?    Since the early 1980s, the international community has increasingly turned to independent commissions to consider issues of global concern. These have combined with United Nations world conferences to raise awareness about the environment, development and poverty. While the reports of such commissions do not always translate into specific measures or laws, they can be instrumental in putting hitherto little discussed concepts on to the world stage. The Brundtland Commission, for example, brought to the fore the links between the environment and development, popularising the term “sustainable development” in the process.

Independent commissions can allow for more creative and original thinking than usually occurs when the fine details of laws or conventions are being negotiated. This freedom has produced innovative instruments and institutional devices. And by drawing in a wide variety of players, independent commissions can make linkages that do not always emerge in national and international governance. In this vein, the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization provides a unique opportunity to look at the big picture, pulling together the economic and social strands of globalization at national, regional and international levels. Nonetheless, political will is needed if independent commissions are to realize their full potential, with proposals turned into action.
How does the work of the World Commission relate to the issue of trade and labour standards?    The past two decades have seen considerable debate and controversy over the relationship between trade liberalization and labour standards. In the event, members of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and its successor body, the World Trade Organization, have been unable to resolve their differences on the matter. But an international consensus has emerged on the importance of core labour standards in a globalizing world. The Copenhagen Social Summit in 1995 defined a set of standards that would provide a social floor to the global economy. These four principles – freedom of association and the elimination of child labour, forced labour and discrimination – formed the basis for the adoption of the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its follow-up.

In parallel, the ILO is now recognized as the relevant body for setting and administering the standards concerned. Both the WTO Singapore Ministerial Declaration of 1996, in which members renewed their commitment to core labour standards, and the ILO Declaration also state that these standards should not be used for protectionist purposes. At their meeting in Doha in November 2001, WTO ministers also took note of the ILO's work on the social dimension of globalization. This is the basis on which the World Commission will examine the role of international trade within the wider context of globalisation.
How do recent international developments fit into the Commission's work?    These developments have further emphasized the growing interdependence of today's world. The repercussions of September 11 have had an impact on people and countries everywhere. Similarly, few have remained unaffected by the slowdown in growth, corporate scandals and stock market declines. The resulting economic and personal insecurity has added to the sense of vulnerability already felt by many people in the face of external forces that they have little control over. This has made it all the more urgent to develop ideas and policies to help cope with and mitigate the volatility and vulnerability found in our globalizing world, as well as to access the new opportunities it provides.

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The Social Dimension of Globalization
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Established by the ILO
 Updated 11 March 2003