Research on working conditions, safety and health, skills and productivity in SMEs

Web page | 13 March 2013

Developing evidence-based responses to SME needs

Competitive private enterprise is the principal source of economic growth, wealth and jobs, but does not always lead to improved working conditions or sustainable livelihoods. In fact, at the policy level, decent work and competitive enterprises are often presented as if they are in opposition to each other. Actions that aim to improve working conditions or safety are assumed to create additional cost burdens for enterprises whereas, in fact, this type of investment can yield real business returns. This reality constitutes a ‘business case’ for improved working conditions: a ‘win-win’ argument.

Despite substantial research, the win-win scenario is often ignored, and the many benefits that decent and responsible practices generate for enterprises, workers, communities and economies, are overlooked.

An ILO inter-departmental project is now exploring and exposing the ‘win-win’ evidence, through targeted research from a range of perspectives. The aim of this collaborative effort is to strengthen the evidence base relating to the existence of a win-win scenario and use this evidence as a foundation on which to build future ILO interventions and policy guidance. The initial project focus will be on literature/data reviews relating to the interconnections between enterprise productivity, conditions of work and skills development, as a starting point for identifying cause and effect relationships in the developing countries SME context. Subsequently, it will develop one or more new intervention models and adapted tools, which will be subjected to ground-level testing and refinement.
Completed research:

The research plan

The ultimate objective of this project is to develop an evidence-based intervention model (including intervention tools) that addresses the issues impacting on SMEs and those that work with them. With this in mind, it brings together ILO experts on working conditions, safety and health, skills’ development, and enterprise development, to ensure a rounded perspective on the complexity of issues involved.

During the current biennium (to December 2013) this cross-departmental team will work together with respected research institutes on a series of research papers that review empirical evidence and lessons learned from past interventions. This research will be shared during an International Research Conference planned for 9 and 10 May 2013.

Moving into the next biennium (2014-15), proposed intervention models and tools will be tested at the national level, eventually forming the basis of one or more tested, evidence–based, intervention model that provides an improved response to SME issues.

Vision Statement: ILO Global Product No. 154
To drive economic growth and achieve better working and living conditions for a majority of workers, by enabling SMEs to adopt practices that capitalize on the synergies between higher productivity and improved skills, working conditions and occupational safety and health.