“1+6” Roundtable, Beijing

A human-centred approach to global economic governance

Reducing inequality and ensuring sustainable development requires greater cooperation and policy coherence within the multilateral system, Guy Ryder has told leaders at a meeting in Beijing held to discuss the development of the world economy.

Statement | Beijing, China | 21 November 2019
Thank you, Premier Li, for convening this fourth Roundtable Dialogue, at such a critical moment for the global economy.

Global economic growth continues to slow and that clearly presents obstacles to more productive, fulfilling and decent work.

The ILO estimates that in 2019, 174 million people are unemployed globally, including 59 million youth aged 15 to 24. More than 60% of the world’s employed population work in conditions of informality; and more than one quarter of workers in low- and middle-income countries are living in conditions of poverty.

That is the human face of the current economic circumstances we face.

While current trade conflicts undoubtedly block growth opportunities, the long-term slowdown in trade is almost a decade old. It is likely, therefore, that something structural in the world economy has shifted. For example, the heightened uncertainties we have talked about may be spurring reduced investment by multinational companies in global value chains.

These shifts provide fewer opportunities for low and middle-income countries to deepen their role as globally integrated suppliers and therefore to create a more diverse and sophisticated base for their manufacturing and their services. In turn, this impedes a broader distribution of global income and the economic and social benefits that it would deliver.

These developments threaten to exacerbate already excessive income and wealth inequalities around the world. The share of global income going to labour is continuing to fall, and it was already highly skewed; the bottom 50% of workers receive just 6.4 per cent of the total. This means inevitably that too many people are being left behind.

So what is the way forward?

Last June, in this year that the ILO celebrates its Centenary, our 187 member States came to our annual International Labour Conference to discuss the future of work. They drew up and adopted the ILO Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work. The Declaration calls on all countries, with the support of the ILO, to further develop a human-centred approach to the future of work with three main tenets:

The first of those is more pro-employment fiscal and monetary policy, designed together with policies for wages, skills, technology and innovation. All of this if enacted would bring economic policy into line with the urgent demands of the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, which calls for decent work with sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth.

This would entail more investment in strategic sectors of the economy:
  • in the care economy, which we estimate could generate close to 500 million jobs worldwide by 2030, when 2.3 billion people will be in need of care;
  • in the rural economy and in the green economy, which could if accompanied by a just transition lead towards a carbon-neutral economy;
  • and in social, physical and digital infrastructure.
Secondly, the ILO member States called for more investments in people’s capacities as part of an inclusive, high quality development path. This would entail:
  • measures to realize effectively the implementation of the principles of lifelong learning and quality education;
  • addressing obstacles to women’s participation in economic activities, as was agreed by the G20 at Brisbane as long ago as 2014;
  • and building and strengthening social protection, which is essential in times of transformative change.
Thirdly, the ILO Declaration called for strengthening the institutions of work, including:
  • minimum wages;
  • safety and health at work; and
  • limits on working time.
Premier, all these measures would go a long way in raising growth and reducing inequality - both essential elements in sustainable development.

This year in China, your Government has elevated the stabilization of employment to one of its top three macro policy priorities; it is committed to implementing an employment-first strategy and indeed, China has succeeded in recent years in creating 13 million jobs annually.

China has, going forward, to address not only the challenges posed for employment by a difficult international environment but also the ones brought about by the important industrial transformation that your country has chosen as the way forward. The measures you have taken to promote technological innovation as a key driver of growth, to create new skill bases and to reduce employment risks have already had very important impacts. Today China as we have heard is certainly a highly entrepreneurial country, and the ILO is pleased to have had the opportunity to contribute by developing programmes that have trained over ten million people, in close cooperation with your ministries.

Nevertheless, at this critical juncture, there are challenges for the world of work here in China. We also see the challenge of work informalization looming. There are signs of downward labour productivity trends and polarization on the labour markets. Work seems to risk becoming more short-term and casual especially for the lower skilled. The digitalization of the economy, despite its generally positive impact on income and job creation, is contributing to these trends here in China, as we also observe in other middle and high income countries.

This brings me also to the last issue on our agenda for discussion today, that of global economic governance and the multilateral system.

You have spoken in your opening words, Mr Premier, of the need for better global partnership.

Our member States stated in our Centenary Declaration that our current conditions of globalization made it more important than ever for every country to adopt humane conditions of labour; and the Declaration called on the ILO for engagement and cooperation within the multilateral system with a view to strengthening global policy coherence.

I think our discussions today have made clear the importance of that. For example, the proposals for the strengthening of the investments which we all agree would be beneficial require adequate fiscal resources and the capacity to deliver programmes effectively. In that regard, multilateral partnerships, within the UN system as well as with the international financial and commercial institutions, can provide the means to mobilize resources, improve policy coherence and increase impact.

Indeed, there is a wide degree of convergence on the key issues that need to be addressed. But at the same time, in the past the policy solutions proposed have sometimes varied, impeding action at national level. So more dialogue and cooperation between the international organizations, including those around this table, to identify key common principles and coordinate action could present a contribution to addressing the problems that we all face.

The ILO stands ready to work with its colleagues here to achieve that end.

Thank you.