Decent work, fair income distribution


The International Labour Organization (ILO) is an agency within the United Nations that deals with labor issues, focusing particularly on social protection, labor standards implementation and work opportunity creation in UN member states. In an exclusive interview, Capital spoke to ILO Director General Guy Ryder, to discuss his aspirations for the Third Financing for Development Conference and the state of the international labor market.

Capital: Can you tell us what priorities top ILO’s post-2015 development agenda?
Guy Ryder:
We have been working very hard into inputting quite substantively in the post-2015 agenda. If you see the draft document going to the General Assembly in September, I would say that the absolute top priority of all of them is Goal #8, which talks about inclusive growth: A full, productive employment in decent work for all. It is jobs and decent work, which is really at center stage.
I would also add that another area of high priority for us is the question of social protection. There are many other things, but those are the two central issues. Interestingly and encouragingly enough, they are also present in the outcome document draft here in Addis. We have got the seven crosscutting issues, one is social protection and the other is about jobs. So we see the coherence between the two and we hope that the financing chapter can fit into the substantive agenda in September, and we look to be a part of the implementation process.
Capital: What will a successful conference in Addis look like for the ILO?
It is relatively easy to have a successful conference to the extent that you negotiate the document. If the document on the table is actually adopted, I think the ILO will regard that as a good result.
But I think that what really matters, and what matters to people, not just the people participating in the conference, is that this outcome paper will have some concrete effect on the development prospects of different countries. I think there is a legitimate question that people are asking: Is this going to make any difference? Is it going to make any difference to me? And that is what success means. In the end, success is less the document – we need the document – but it is much more the consequences.
Capital: What will it take to convince all nations and business that economic development must ensure the respect of fundamental labor rights and standards, including issues of fair wage and benefits?
I think intellectually, people are convinced about it. The Decent Work Agenda, which is the ILO’s agenda, means employment opportunities for everybody. In the world today, there are more than 200 million people without a job, so we have a long way to go. The 2008 crisis destroyed about 60 million jobs in the world. We have been going in the wrong way, so creating jobs is a priority.
Secondly, as you have indicated it quite clearly, is the respect for workers’ rights. That means the right to organize, freedom from discrimination, freedom from forced labor, freedom from child labor. Then we need social protection; we need social protection for all. Nearly three out of every four workers in the world does not have adequate social protection. Some of them are failures of political will – depriving people of their rights is first and foremost a political decision.
I think the difficult issues we face concern the operations of the global economy. Since the 2008 crisis, we have seen a slowdown in the global economy. Somehow, we have to break out of the danger of a slow growth cycle and this rather negative spiral that the global economy risks being stuck in.
Capital: You mentioned the need for social protection. What is the ILO doing to address the growing number of unskilled labor migrants who are exposed to dangerous, and sometimes deadly, travel and work conditions?
There is a great paradox about migration. I think it is true to say that the economic case in favor of migration has never been stronger because of the different demographic trends and the different demand and supply of the labor force in various parts of the world. While the economic case has never been stronger, the social and political obstacles to migration are getting greater and greater.
In Europe, I see how the migration debate is being handled critically in Europe – it has become a toxic debate. There is a growing hostility to migration and the automatic reflex is to try to limit it. I think that the international system has to do better in the management of migration to make a positive case for migration, establish mechanisms whereby legal and orderly migration can take place, ensure the rights of migrant workers are properly protected.
I see it as a major part of my organization that the rights of migrant workers are protected. The fundamental starting point for that is equal treatment. If you come to the United Kingdom from Ethiopia, you should be treated like a British worker; if I come from Britain to Ethiopia, I would expect to be treated in the same way. It is a fundamental principle, but it is not observed.
Capital: On a broader scale, what is your assessment of the labor climate in rapidly developing nations such as Ethiopia?
It is varied depending on the country in question.
Ethiopia has grown very strongly in recent years. What matters is that these countries translate economic growth into social progress.
China, for example, has been growing rapidly for a long time, and it has taken them a while to take the decision to pay attention to social conditions in their country. They have developed a pension system; they are looking at universal healthcare; they are looking at labor contracts legislation to make sure workers are protected.
Every country is not the same. But reverting to the Addis conference, the fact that universal social protection is being considered as one of the aims of development shows that this is about more than purely economic growth. You need economic growth to generate the wealth from which social progress can be derived. I think countries such as Ethiopia – the big emerging economies – need to adopt social protection in their agenda.
Capital: Can we speak of concrete measure through which we can ensure that promises made this week and in September are actually upheld?
That is really important. One thing that I find really encouraging here in Addis is that there is follow-up mechanism being negotiated in the outcome paper. There will be a surveillance system overseeing how we are progressing.
I think there is skepticism. In politics in general, I think people are not too sure that governments are not doing much. I think politicians need to recover the trust of citizens. My organization and all of the international organizations face the same question of trust.
There is one way to respond to that. One thing is about transparency and accountability. But more importantly, you have to deliver results. In four years time, people will look back and say, “That was a beautiful document; we all made good speeches. Did it change anything?” If you look at the performance since this process began, we have seen positive things. We have had lots of problems, but we have also made a lot of progress.
I still think there is strong resentment, worry and doubt particularly around inequality.
Even as development has progressed, many of our societies have become more and more unequal – in terms of income and in terms of opportunities. This, I think, is a very serious developmental challenge. I do not think we should just measure development in a straight line. We have to disaggregate and see who is included, who is excluded, and the distributional aspects of development. I think that is going to be one of the big stories going forward.