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"Five Years After Copenhagen"

Roundtable on Disability and Social Development

Geneva 2000 NGO Forum

Message by Mr. Juan Somavia, Director-General, ILO

(Geneva, 28 June 2000)

Welcome to the Geneva 2000 NGO Forum and this Round Table on Disability and Social Development. I wish to express my deepest regret that I am unable to address you personally. I have asked that this message be conveyed to you on my behalf.

The ILO is firmly committed to the full integration of people with disabilities into the mainstream of the world of work. I expect that the outcome of the Special Session will reaffirm the importance of employment to the social and economic inclusion of people with disabilities.

The Geneva 2000 Forum organizers asked me to identify the result I most want from the event: "Make your voices heard."

We, the NGO's and the UN together, have significant work ahead. The World Summit for Social Development five years ago foretold the effects of globalization. At that time the imperative of weaving cultural, economic and social dimensions into policy guided the building of solutions addressing the Summit's three core issues - alleviation of poverty, employment and social integration. The immediate challenge was to place social development into the centre of world politics. At the Opening of the Copenhagen NGO Forum I asked "Why should macroeconomic balance be achieved on the basis of unbalancing the lives of people already living on the margins of societies?"

The Copenhagen Declaration and Platform for Action recognizes that the world's disabled people must be given access to economic and social mainstreams through the systematic building of employment opportunities. The Platform for Action calls for broadening the range of employment opportunities by, for example:

  • Ensuring that laws and regulation do not discriminate against disabled people;
  • Taking proactive measures, such as organizing support services, devising incentive schemes and supporting self-help schemes and small businesses;
  • Making appropriate adjustments in the workplace to accommodate persons with disabilities, including the promotion of innovative technologies;
  • Promoting public awareness within societies regarding the impact of negative stereotyping of persons with disabilities on their participation in the labour market.

The ILO submitted "Decent Work and Poverty Reduction in the Global Economy" to the Second Session of the Preparatory Committee for the Special Session of the General Assembly on the Implementation of the Outcome of the WSSD and Further Initiatives (April 2000). In the coming days, Delegates will vigorously discuss the submissions of all the UN Specialized Agencies and Bretton Woods institutions.

Let me highlight facts known by the ILO concerning the present effect of globalization:

"...globalization has not succeeded in making markets work for all. The benefits of globalization have been unevenly distributed both between and within nations. At the same time a host of social problems have emerged or intensified ... as a result the present form of globalization is facing a crisis of legitimacy resulting from the erosion of popular support."

The ILO has long recognized the interdependence of economic and social policies. The backlash of globalization has strongly reinforced the need for action by the General Assembly because:

"...integrated problems of sustainable economic growth and social development cannot be tackled with sectoral solutions."

Extending the logic to the situation experienced by many disabled people, the multilateral system of international organizations is underperforming. Disability needs to be built into the interrelationships between the economic and social aspects of development. For a start, the ILO wants to see greater policy coherence, including the elimination of disincentives to employment, guide an integrated approach to an increasingly integrated world economy.

A job is the first step out of poverty. A job is the key to creating wealth and distributing it equitably. Meaningful work can mean a positive social identity, a means to acceptance into the life of a community. A job can mean independence, enhanced self esteem, stronger families. Disabled people - often branded as "different," therefore, ostracized - know better than most the extraordinary "value"of a job. The ILO programme today aims at achieving four objectives: employment creation, promoting human rights at work, improving social protection, and promoting social dialogue among workers' and employers' organizations and ministries of labour and employment.

Globalization's failure to deliver a steadily increasing number of productive, paying jobs is the result of inadequacies in international and national policies. The solution must recognize that improved financial system architecture cannot replace the need for domestic policies that work. Disabled people should, if they choose to, become workers with disabilities - a simple economic fact. Solutions will achieve greater acceptance when the social and economic costs of fostering dependency on national institutions are factored in. Nations can ill afford to create situations which drain away resources that might otherwise stimulate fragile economies.

So, make your voices heard!

Within the ILO, the Disability Programme is included within the InFocus Programme on Skills, Knowledge and Employability. "InFocus" means that in my administration we have assigned a special importance to specific topics. This InFocus Programme promotes increased and effective investment in training and human resource development. One purpose is to improve the access of vulnerable groups to human resource development and labour market opportunities through strengthened employability and competitiveness.


I would like to revisit three statements from the Inaugural Address to NGOs five years ago:

We seem to have forgotten three fundamental lessons of history. Firstly, successful development has always been accompanied by growing equity and solidarity. No developed society of today has reached that status by increasing polarization and disparity.

Secondly, when social tensions are not dealt with through more social integration and cohesion, but less, the easy option is to apply more authoritarian policies in order to control the situation.

Thirdly, cohesive societies have a shared notion of a common good expressed in values and objectives that are different from, and often contrary to, the mere pursuit and interaction of individual interests in the marketplace.

Make your voices heard in discussion and debate in as many fora as possible. Sustainable livelihood of disabled people is one value well able to be translated into achievable objectives. I convey to you every good wish for fruitful work in the days ahead.

Updated by SMP. Approved by AC. Last update: 17 October 2000.