Social Dialogue: Key to Achieving the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals

Promoting participatory social dialogue is a fundamental means to address the challenges and seize the opportunities that are emerging from changes in the wold of work and technological advances, writes the ILO’s Shaza Jondi.

Article | 11 September 2019
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted as a result of consultations involving more than 1 million people across all countries and backgrounds, places at its heart a strong commitment to reducing all forms of inequalities and “leaving no one behind”. To achieve this ambitious agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we need to continue to uphold the standards of inclusiveness and multi-stakeholder engagement and partnerships as underlying principles for its implementation.

One critical modality of multi-stakeholder engagement is social dialogue. While the 2030 Agenda does not explicitly mention “social dialogue,” it acknowledges the centrality of decent work to the achievement of sustainable development, as enshrined in SDG8 (Decent work and inclusive growth). This de facto implies recognizing social dialogue as a tool for negotiation and consensus building among the tripartite actors from the world of work: governments and worker and employer organizations. Indeed, evidence shows that social dialogue, underpinned by the fundamental principles and rights at work, can foster socio-economic progress and can be a governance instrument for the realization of sustainable development, representing an essential means for implementing the SDGs. Social Dialogue has had proven positive impact on wages, working conditions, and labour productivity. But beyond SDG8, social dialogue is also a critical element for achieving other goals, including goal 1 (poverty reduction), goal 5, (gender equality), goal 10 (reduced inequality), and goal 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions).
Social dialogue is defined by the International Labour Organization (ILO) to include all types of negotiation, consultation or simply exchange of information between, or among, representatives of governments, employers and workers, on issues of common interest relating to economic and social policy.

The challenges facing the world of work today are formidable. According to the ILO, 190 million people are unemployed in the world today, out of which 65 million are youth. Some 300 million workers live in extreme poverty (below US$ 1.9/day), a reflection of the poor quality of jobs offered and the low wages earned by these people. Societies have become unequal; this is to a great extent the result of weakened labour market institutions and social dialogue.

These challenges are amplified in the Arab region, which for decades has been characterized by high unemployment rates, particularly among youth, low labour productivity, informality, poor working conditions, low labour force participation rates among women, and low or inadequate social protection coverage. All these deficits have converged to form a vicious circle that is hampering efforts to make significant advances in reducing poverty and inequality. At the heart of these deficits has been weak governance, manifested in weak industrial relations and lack of effective channels of communication between governments and citizens that would enable their voices to be heard and solutions to be agreed. Where social dialogue mechanisms existed, they were neither institutionalized nor sustained.

In this context, the ILO Regional Office for Arab States organized in April 2019 a south-south dialogue amongst governments and employer and worker representatives from Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and Oman. The aim of the dialogue was to foster exchange of knowledge and experience on the engagement of the ILO’ tripartite constituents in the implementation, monitoring, and reporting of the 2030 agenda, with a focus on SDG8, and identify ways to enhance their role and engagement in these processes.

Key conclusions are:
  1. Increased political, economic and social distress and armed conflicts have exacerbated pre-existing development challenges in the Arab region and further exposed inequalities. Social dialogue is a proven powerful tool in these contexts to stabilise social relationships and pave a way forward, by gathering economic and social actors and governments around the table.
  2. Implementation, monitoring and reporting on SDGs needs to adopt a participatory approach that engages all concerned stakeholders, including employer and worker representatives and civil society. Mechanisms need to be put in place and sustained to ensure that these processes are not ad hoc and one-off events.
  3. In addition to their participation Voluntary National Reviews reports (VNRs), civil society and social partners can submit shadow reports to provide their views and reflections on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and SDGs.
Looking forward, there is a need to further promote participatory social dialogue as a fundamental means to address the challenges and seize the opportunities that emerge from changes in the wold of work and technological advances. Beyond its usefulness as a mechanism for ensuring the coherence and legitimacy of social, economic, and environmental policies, the right to dialogue is a basic tenet  to the construction of inclusive societies, and is one of the underlying pillars of the 2030 Agenda. The year 2019 is a special year for reinforcing the centrality of social dialogue to the 2030 agenda: it marks the 100th anniversary of the ILO’s pursuit of social justice, and is also the year during which SDG8 and SDG 10 will be reviewed at the High Level Political Forum (HLPF).

*This article first appeared in the SDGs Digest of the Islamic Development Bank, Issue No. 8