Helen Clark: Address to ILO on the Social Dimension of Globalization

22 Mar 2010


UNDP Administrator Helen Clark and ILO
Director-General Juan Somavia
It is an honour and privilege for me to address this ILO Working Party on the Social Dimension of Globalisation this morning.

As Administrator of UNDP and as a former Minister of Labour and Labour Prime Minister, decent work and its contribution to human development and poverty reduction are issues very close to my heart.

I had the pleasure of addressing the ILO as New Zealand Prime Minister in 2004 on the Report of the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalisation.  I spoke then of the importance of ensuring that globalization created opportunities for the many, not the few, and of the contribution of the Commission’s Report to making that happen.

Now I am delighted to have this opportunity to return as head of UNDP in support of our joint work programme with the ILO, particularly given the recent decision of UNDP’s Executive Board to integrate the Global Jobs Pact within our work. That decision is highly appropriate given the close relationship between the ILO and UNDP at the global, regional, and country levels of our organisations.

The decent work agenda developed by the ILO is fundamentally about quality jobs and fairness. These are enablers for people realising their capabilities and living fulfilling lives, thus reducing their susceptibility to poverty, morbidity, hunger, and disease.

Decent work is therefore essential for advancing human development and meeting the MDGs.  The first MDG includes a specific target to achieve 'full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people.'  It is now widely recognised that employment-intensive growth is a necessary condition for achieving sustainable growth and poverty reduction.

But decent work is important not only for MDG 1.  It is important for meeting other MDGs too.  Sustainable income generated through adult employment, for example, enables families to send their children to school.  That then contributes to their children reaching their potential, and, therefore, to both a greater ability to participate fully in society in the future and in the workforce. That creates more resources for priority investments by families and nations.  This is the kind of virtuous cycle which must be set in motion for development to gain traction.

With only five years to go until the 2015 target date for the MDGs, it is clear that substantial progress has been made, but much remains to be done.  At this year’s major review summit on the MDGs in New York in September, we will need to focus on what has worked and how to scale it up.  There is a rich menu of proven policy interventions available to support meeting all the Goals.

At the global level, the number of those living in extreme poverty is estimated to have dropped from 1.8 billion people in 1990 to 1.4 billion in 2005.  Enrolment in primary education has increased significantly, and the deaths of children under five years of age have decreased a good deal between 1990 and 2008.

Yet many challenges remain. 

Very little progress has been made in maternal health, for example.  In the developing world as a whole, there were 480 maternal deaths per 100,000 births in 1990 compared to 450 deaths in 2005, and that small decline reflects progress only in some regions.

Overall, the progress made on the MDGs has been uneven.  While in some countries the rate of extreme poverty reduction has met the Goal, in others, poverty rates are actually increasing.  While most countries are making progress on some goals, they may face real challenges in achieving others.

What is happening to poverty rates both reflects and affects employment trends.  As the ILO knows so well, some regions in the world were already facing high levels of so called “vulnerable employment” even before the financial and economic crisis began.  The global recession has raised these problems to new levels.

The ILO has estimated that the number of people unemployed jumped by between 24 and 43 million between 2007 and 2009.  At either end of the estimate, the numbers are of concern.

What is also disturbing is the ILO’s estimate that the “vulnerable employed” accounted for around half of all global employment in 2009.  We know that those working in the world’s rapidly expanding informal economic sectors are often forced into squalid working conditions where they go without access to any protection.

The ILO does the world a great service in monitoring these trends and bringing them to international attention.  I cite them here only to remind of us the scale of the challenge we face in implementing the decent work agenda.

It is not simply that we need to create millions of jobs each year to keep pace with growth in the world's labour force.  To have a chance of achieving the first MDG in many countries, significantly more and better jobs will need to be created.

In his most recent report on the MDGs, the Secretary-General of the United Nations highlighted the ILO’s findings that the world needs to create millions of new jobs simply to return to pre-crisis levels of unemployment.

Yet recovery from past recessions tells us that if the market is left to its own devices, there could be a very significant time lag between the return of economic growth and a lift in employment.

That is why the Global Jobs Pact, developed by the ILO, is so important. The actions it proposes, if implemented, put jobs at the very centre of responses to the crisis.

That would be achieved by active labour market and social protection initiatives, including working to retain existing jobs, creating new jobs—including in the green economy, supporting the development of small and medium-sized enterprises, and upskilling workers.

The Pact is premised on social dialogue, collective bargaining, and respect for international labour standards.

For nations seeking to emerge from the recession in a way which is fair and just, the Global Jobs Pact paves the way.

I congratulate the ILO on the way in which it has mobilised support for the Pact.  The G8 Leaders at L’Aquila declared that the Pact was a relevant response to the crisis, and the G20 Leaders at Pittsburgh committed their nations to adopting key elements of the Pact.

Within the UN System, the Chief Executives Board endorsed the Pact as one of a number of measures required to respond to the global crisis, and ECOSOC encouraged member states to make full use of it in shaping their policy packages.

As your Director-General says in his preface to the Global Jobs Pact, ECOSOC also “called on the UN to consider integrating the policy contents of the Pact into the activities of the Resident Co-ordinator system and country teams in support of national crisis responses.”

That’s where UNDP comes in.  As I mentioned earlier, our Executive Board in January resolved that we should integrate the Global Jobs Pact into our operational activities in collaboration with the ILO, and report annually on progress.

I welcome and strongly support this decision.  Since arriving at UNDP I have been stressing the importance of our organisation supporting the mandates of all other organisations in the UN Development Group and Country Teams.

That was critical before the recession, and is even more so now as we endeavour to maintain traction on the MDGs in tough times.

To do this, I am keen to build on the work UNDP and ILO undertook in the ten-point action plan agreed on by my predecessor and your Director General, Mr. Somavia, three years ago.  I understand that as a direct result of our work and advocacy, a number of countries have now integrated explicit employment generation strategies within their national development plans.  Our jointly organised training sessions and publications have also helped to increase policy makers’ and development practitioners’ understanding of the labour market and the relationship between employment policies, growth and poverty.

At the country level we are working together in many places on policies which promote sustainable employment, including through the development of small and medium-sized enterprises, inclusive financial sectors, and ‘pro-poor’ business investment.  That can lead, as for example, in Bulgaria and Egypt, to helping start-up businesses access business advice and mentoring services.

Together we are looking at how we can scale up support to women entrepreneurs.  As women form a high proportion of the world’s ‘vulnerable employed’ it is critical to address their right to decent work.  Indeed overall MDG attainment will be accelerated if there is a much stronger focus on meeting the needs of women and girls. Investment in women and girls could well be the breakthrough strategy we need for meeting the MDGs.

A number of the UNDP-ILO joint initiatives are being supported by the Spanish MDG Achievement Fund, enabling us to work across youth employment, migration, and private sector development.  For example,

• In Bosnia, Costa Rica and Sudan, UNDP and ILO are helping unemployed young people get productive and decent work.

• In Vietnam, we are supporting environmentally sustainable production to increase incomes and employment opportunities for the rural poor.

•  In the Dominican Republic, Egypt, and Turkey, we are developing the capacity of small scale producers so that they can access new value chain opportunities.

As we work to accelerate MDG progress and promote decent work and the Global Jobs Pact, UNDP sees four areas where we could step up collaboration with the ILO.

First, there are the opportunities created by the recently adopted UN policy on employment creation, income generation, and reintegration in the post-conflict countries.  It is so critical to peace building to help countries generate emergency employment and build a pathway to more sustainable incomes.

Work of this kind is already underway in Iraq.  UNDP, ILO, and other agencies work with the government there on a comprehensive policy framework for private sector development and employment creation.

Second, the process of tackling climate change opens up opportunities for green jobs in adaptation and mitigation.  This offers simultaneously the potential for advancing human development, reducing unemployment, and addressing climate change.

Third, together we need to keep building a strong empirical base of knowledge about the employment impacts of policies and programmes, determining ‘what works’ and why.  As countries look to us for good advice, we need to be sure that what we offer is based on solid evidence of the positive employment and development impacts.

Fourth, there is the work on the Global Social Protection Floor initiative to take forward. Already we are participating in a number of joint country level initiatives related to that.

For example, in Mozambique, UNDP and the ILO are supporting the design of a National Basic Social Security Strategy.  In Senegal, we are helping to conduct a social budgeting exercise.

I look forward to continuing to build on the co-operation between us, both on a bi lateral basis, as well as through the various multi-agency fora of the United Nations where we interact.

The challenges of promoting employment-intensive and low-carbon growth to advance human development are great. Yet, the legitimacy and respect our two organisations enjoy, and the dedication and experience of our staff, make it possible for us to make a difference in even the most difficult environments. With the MDG target date fast approaching, with an urgent need to make jobs a central focus of economic recovery, and with the imperative of supporting countries to adapt to and mitigate climate change, we have work aplenty to do.