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Digitalization in the retail sector

Ensure an enabling environment for decent work and economic recovery in the digitalized retail sector

Governments, employers’ and workers’ representatives discussed the opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the retail sector, at an ILO technical meeting.

News | 06 October 2023
GENEVA (ILO News) – Representatives of governments, employers and workers have called for comprehensive and evidence-based policies that could address the root causes of decent work challenges vis à vis digitalization, as well as on strong frameworks promoting both an enabling environment for sustainable enterprises, skills development and lifelong learning, and adequate labour protection for all workers in the retail sector.

Meeting at ILO headquarters in Geneva, participants underlined the need for strategies that promote flexibility and enhance productivity, while ensuring decent work. This includes respecting limits on working time and overtime, protecting workers from new safety and health risks including mental and psychosocial health risks and facilitating work-life balance.

The retail sector employs an estimated 420 million people worldwide – half of them women. The growth of online retailers, warehousing and distribution services has created new and different jobs – particularly for women and youth.

Digitalization has provided greater access for small and medium-sized enterprises to reach markets, helped reduced informality and has the potential to drive economic recovery.

However, these new business models have also created skills shortages and in some cases, job losses in traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ enterprises.

They have led to an increase in different work arrangements which challenge the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining and the provision of adequate social protection coverage.

In conclusions to the meeting, government, workers’ and employers’ representatives stressed the importance of social dialogue to help tackle these issues and to ensure a just and inclusive digital transition.

They also underlined the importance of investments in digital infrastructure to help close the digital divide within and between countries, including rural and urban divides.

“We are witnessing transformative changes in the world of work, including through the acceleration of digitalization in the retail sector, which present opportunities as well as challenges for decent work. Now more than ever, it is important for governments, employers’, and workers’ organizations to come together and discuss how policies and initiatives in this sector can advance social justice and a future of work that is sustainable, inclusive and resilient,” said Yukiko Arai, Deputy Director and Officer-in-Charge, ILO Sectoral Policies Department.

“The full realization of the employment creation potential in the retail sector requires an integrated approach combining job-rich policies, decent work opportunities, social protection, and strategies for just transition tailored to the specific needs of the sector,” said Margherita Licata, Specialist Private Service Sectors, ILO Sectoral Policies Department.