ILO Director-General Calls for Policies with a Caring Eye

The ILO Director-General addresses 3000 UNCTAD delegates calling for policies better meeting people’s fundamental needs.

Press release | BANGKOK | 15 February 2000

BANGKOK (ILO News):- "We know enough about market fundamentals - it's time to pay attention to the fundamentals in people's lives", ILO Director-General Juan Somavia warned policy makers at UNCTAD X in Bangkok today.

In a keynote address to 3000 UNCTAD delegates, Mr Somavia said that the 20th century had ended with a global consensus on the importance of open societies, and open markets - but there was still no matching agreement on meeting people's fundamental needs.

"Putting the social pillar into globalization is the only answer. And it's the lack of that consensus that has placed the present model of globalization in question," he said.

The global economy was not delivering enough benefits to enough people. "That's the reason for the backlash," he said. The situation was "worrying, and even dangerous."

He urged policy makers to look at issues through the eyes of people. "If we don't," he said, "we are going to make policy mistakes."

"Today a very essential element of what is happening to women, men and children is uncertainty: insecurity, anxiety, the feeling that things are happening so quickly in so many different places. The old problems of the past and the new realities of globalization are all interacting so quickly that people feel at a loss."

Mr Somavia said the uncertainty wore many faces. Some was due to unemployment, poverty and social exclusion. But there were new uncertainties too. Middle class people are worried that their children will not have the same opportunities that they had. Young people just out of school already need to recycle themselves and their skills. The knowledge economy and the informal economy were growing at the same time.

Decent work

The core solution to uncertainty, Mr Somavia said, is decent work. People want jobs that let them educate their children and make it possible to lead a stable family life, "in peace and security and health." Decent work means being treated well at work, and knowing that, "if I play according to the rules, at the end of 30 years or so, I have a pension."

Guaranteeing decent work was within the grasp of policy makers. He said that while the revolution in information and communications technology that underlies globalization was irreversible, there was nothing inevitable about the policies that went with it. "They have been made by policy-makers and they can be changed by policy makers in order to expand the benefits of globalization."

He warned against structural adjustment measures borne by the weakest members of society. "Is that the only way we can balance a budget?"

Instead, he called for policies that promoted growth and employment - and small enterprise offered by far the most potential. "If we're going to make it, we're going to make it because we have a global breakthrough with small enterprises."

The ILO was promoting "Decent work in the global economy." The social floor of the global economy was set by the 1995 Social Summit, which politically upgraded seven ILO Conventions on freedom of association, forced labour, discrimination and child labour. The ILO is doing many things to implement these basic principles, through its Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, working with business to make social policy more productive, assisting countries to spread good practices, and mounting a global campaign to eliminate the worst forms of child labour.

Integrated policy approach

Mr Somavia stressed that the challenges of globalization would not be met by economic or social planners working alone. "I think that we've reached the limit to sectorial analyses of an integrated problem." He called on the national and international communities to unite behind a commitment to people.

He said that as the first Director-General of the ILO to come from a developing country he was very sensitive to the need for a multicultural perspective. "There is no future for "one-size-fits-all solutions."