Address by Guy Ryder on the Future of Work and Sustainable Development

The ILO Director-General spoke at a global seminar in Rome, organized by the Catholic Church to coincide with the celebration of the Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker.

Statement | Rome | 04 May 2016
Thank you your eminence Cardinal Turkson. Thank you for the very warm welcome that I have received.

Cardinal, dear friends, let me begin by expressing my appreciation to the organizers of this event, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, our friends from Caritas International, the ILO is truly very pleased to work with you in this very important initiative.

This global seminar to mark the feast of St. Joseph the worker, and to reflect together on what I think we must all consider to be some of the defining challenges of our time. The challenges of sustainable development, the challenges of securing a decent future of work. I'm going to start by underlining something which I think is probably familiar to everybody in the room, but I do want to underline, and that is the community of values which exists between the Catholic Church and its social teaching, and the International Labour Organization. Indeed, as we approach the centenary of the International Labour Organization in just three years’ time and look forward to the future of work that we want to create together.

We at the same time look back over our history, and when we do that we understand very well that the origins of the International Labour Organization have much to do with the social teaching of The Church all the way from Rerum Novarum through to the present day. I think this intertwining of history and this community of values is what truly places us in a very good and strong position to work together to address the issues that we have before us today.

Listening to Father Kiley from a trade union I know very well in the United States reminded me as well of another reality, when he said that all faiths preach justice. And given that the mission of the International Labour Organization from the beginning has been the promotion of social justice. I think we all see the value of building coalitions together and working together towards the realizations of the values that we all share.

I think it is right to say that all faiths as well as preaching justice. All faiths value work. This is very important, and I was looking at the very impressive extracts from Laudato Si as colleagues were speaking in the panel this morning. And there is a great truth in Laudato Si which says that, "Man” - men and women - I would say, "Are created with a vocation to work, and work is a fundamental part, not just of material existence, but of the realization of the human being."

I think this is something that in some ways has been lost from sight in the current policy environment and amongst other things needs to be put very securely back at the centre of our discussions. The ILO as it approaches its centenary has a very heavy responsibility, and it is a responsibility to reflect upon its own capacities to promote and advance its vocation of social justice in circumstances which I consider particularly difficult. My own view, and this is perhaps close to, but perhaps not identical with some of the things that I have heard this morning and on previous occasions, is that the world of work is confronted by two inter-connected crises, and a dramatic process of change. This presents all of us with challenges of perhaps unprecedented complexity.

Now, I've heard and I've seen in the statement you've just adopted this morning the notion of twin crises: one economic and one environmental. Cardinal, you've had a role in environmental question which I admire and know very well. I see a different way of looking at these dual crises. The first crisis is a crisis of sustainable development, and I take that crisis to include all three dimensions of development: the economic, the social, and the environmental, and I see a concurrent crisis and a connected one which is a crisis of values, and the two are not independent. The two, it's not a coincidence that those two crises exist. One is a consequence of the other.

Now, I won't labour you with the details of the crisis of the global economy. You know it. We have a global economy which is incapable of providing work of any type to some 200 million of our fellow human beings. I'm not talking about decent work, I'm talking about any work, and for young people, of course, we know that that crisis of unemployment is particularly catastrophic. If you under 25 years of age, you are three times more likely to be without work than other adults. And at the same time, these figures of unemployment don't capture the true depth or the true nature of the crisis, because we have as well the qualitative dimension of the crisis of employment. 168 million children at work, 21 million people in conditions of forced labour and slavery, and this dramatic situation of informality.

In the developing world, nearly half of workers are working in conditions of informality, which more often than not, is synonymous with conditions of extreme vulnerability at least and exploitation as well. So we're aware that we have this crisis of the global economy for which solutions are not immediately visible on the current trajectory that policy makers are following. That brings me to the second dimension of the crisis, which I believe to be a crisis of values. Policy makers, I find this very, very difficult and I'm going to be honest with you. I find it very difficult to interact with policy makers from other international organizations at the national level, and to speak of the importance of values in international policy making.

I've got to say something which I hope will not offend you. When I talk about values, when I use words such as solidarity, I almost feel in some of the arena that I'm speaking, that I'm swearing in church. You just don't use these words in some of these policy arena. Now, this is not just a subjective comment. What it means is that by trying to, I would say almost sanitize the international policy agenda, make it value-free, because of the needs to respond to the technocratic vision of how markets work, and what markets needs to be more effective. Policy makers are actually missing the point of the objective of policy making.

I'll give you an example. I was involved last week in a discussion of the effects, the likely effects of new technology on the future of work, and I had quoted to me the view of one eminent head of a global multinational company in the information technology sector. The quote was, "For workers to survive under the effects of the coming fourth industrial revolution, they will have to make themselves cheaper than the machines." This was the solution of one eminent expert in the field of technology.

Now, I don't quote this to belittle anybody, but I quote it to illustrate my point. If one tries to address the challenges of new technology in this way by excluding the notion of values, and indeed the purpose of technology, one is inevitably going to come up with the wrong answers. Now, my view of new technology - and this has been touched upon this morning by Mr. Cortebeeck and by others - is that it is somehow illogical and surprising to be confronted with a situation whereby technological progress could be considered or can be inimicable to these values, to social justice and human progress.

There is something profoundly contradictory, because the whole point about technology is that it is a liberating and an emancipatory tool in the hands of human beings to advance our well-being, to advance our societies, to ensure that we are liberated from the worst effects of want and of need. If we fail to harness technology in that way, then we are committing an enormous failure of common purpose, and that's one example.

Now, I see in the world as a consequence of these twin crises, the crisis of development, the crisis of values, something which should be distressing to us all which is an increasing prevalence of conflicts - of confrontation in the world - and of alienation, particularly of young people. I find, and you've mentioned my rather distressing travel itinerary, Cardinal, as I move from country to country, I find that young people, in particular, but not just them, have a profound feeling of-- a profound loss of confidence in the actors of public life, and the institutions of public life.

This is not something which is purely down to material circumstance, but it is something which has more to do with a feeling that those who represent us in public life and the institutions that we have are failing to connect with people, have a profound failure of understanding of what people are looking for in this crisis or twin crisis of development and values. We see this reflected in the political world. We see it reflected in the growth of extremism, expressions of xenophobia and rejection of the other, and I think that this requires us to respond, and to respond with urgency.

I have said and I want to repeat this morning that I consider that there is an absolute imperative on the International Labour Organization, in particular, to be attentive to the needs of those who are most vulnerable in the world of work.

In an organization which is composed of governments of the organized labour movement, and of the employers of the world, there can be a danger of leaving behind, or to one side, those millions in the world of work who are not part of the organized labour movement today, who do not work in formal enterprises, who do not come within the scope of state action, or do not easily come within the scope of state action. I've said this from the beginning of my time at the ILO, and I'm very pleased that the ILO and its recent normative action, in particular, has addressed the particular needs of domestic workers, those more than 50 million people, mostly women, very frequently migrants, who are more often than not invisible in the world of work, not even considered to be workers by those who employ them.

By the adoption of Convention 189, we have given those people international recognition. We have provided an international legal framework for the recognition of their rights, and we're making a difference. I'm very pleased, in the last few days, Chile has ratified that convention, and Brazil has announced its intention to ratify that convention. So that's domestic workers. I am also very pleased that the ILO adopted at last year a recommendation on the informal economy and the formalization of the informal economy. Another effort to reach out to those who too frequently have fallen beyond the reach of our traditional ways of action, and I would add the question of rural workers. The ILO forgot about the rural economy for some 20 years. We have restored the rural economy and rural workers to their proper place as a programmatic priority for our organization.

But I want to echo some of the things that were already said this morning when I say that there is one challenge before us which is perhaps of even greater importance than those areas of actions that I've just mentioned. The world urgently needs to tackle the issue of human mobility in a new way. Human mobility is a rather antiseptic word but I use it advisedly because it's not proper, it's not sufficient to speak simply with migration, or of refugees, or of false displacement, we have to talk about all of these things.

The world lacks a political framework, but more importantly, I think it lacks a political will to address the issues that accompany the mobility of human beings in ways which are compatible with the values which I began my commentary by speaking about. It is encouraging that after a year of successful multilateral action last year, culminating in the Paris Climate Change Agreement and having, of course, seen the adoption of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, that in this year the international community is turning its attention to humanitarian and mobility issues. This month, we will have the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, and in September we will have the U.N. General Assembly meeting on large-scale mobility issues.

We have before us a real opportunity to make a substantive qualitative change in the way we deal with mobility issues, and I know that those of you who are Italian here feel these issues very, very strongly given your current circumstances. In these things, of course, one is reminded of what Pope Francis said. It was a phrase that struck me with particular effect when he spoke about the globalization of indifference, and this indifference is perhaps our biggest enemy as we seek to advance our values.

What greater expression of indifference - and I would say going beyond indifference of outright rejection - can there be than that reflected in the manner in which refugees and displaced persons are being treated in our different regions. Borders are closing in different regions. I think that this indifference is actually now giving way to rejection and marginalization, and this we must combat.

That brings me, perhaps, to my final comments. Firstly, to congratulate all the participants in this seminar for the excellent text that was adopted before we had our coffee break. It made me happy I could go to my coffee break with a good conscience there. It made me happy, because what I found in that declaration - I want you to know that the ILO will try to play its part in the realization of the objectives of that declaration - I found in that declaration an echo of the call launched during the Jubilee of the Worker in the year 2000 by Pope John Paul II, an event to which the ILO was also associated.

He launched in the year 2000 a call for a global coalition for decent work 1. Global coalition for decent work, with our current circumstances, with the opportunity offered by the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with the strong, decent work component that runs through that agenda, not just Goal number eight on decent work itself, but all of those Goals which speak to gender equality, which speak to the fight against inequality, which speak to inclusion.

We have an extraordinary opportunity to move forward with the values and objectives that we share, and what better way to do it than by putting into real action in a qualitatively new way, a response to that call in the year 2000 for a global coalition for decent work. I think the embryo is here. I think the text that you have adopted are on marching orders, and I think that we can go ahead together. So please count on the ILO to play its role in that effort, and thank all of you for being here and making this happen. I thank you.

1The call was also include in Pope Benedict encyclical Caritas in Veritate, paragraph 63.