ILO is a specialized agency of the United Nations

87th Session
1-17 June 1999


Address by Mr. Amartya Sen, Nobel Laureate in Economics
15 June 1999

Mr. President, Director-General, Excellencies and friends. I feel very privileged indeed to be able to address this important Conference at a crucial moment in the history of working people across the world. It is a crucial moment because the first flush of globalization is nearing its completion and we can begin to take a scrutinized and integrated view about the challenges it poses as well as the opportunities it offers. The process of economic globalization is seen as a terrorizing prospect by many precariously placed individuals and communities. And yet it can be made efficacious and rewarding if we take an adequately broad approach to the conditions that govern our lives and work. There is a need for well deliberated action in support of social and political, as well as economic, changes that can transform a dreaded anticipation into a constructive reality.

To a great extent this is what has been attempted in the insightful and appropriately ambitious first Report of the new Director-General, aptly entitled Decent work. It is in many ways a visionary report. I would like to thank Juan Somavia for his very kind remarks. In my text, because I had not heard him, I took the audacious step of actually welcoming him to the ILO! I thought that even though he very kindly welcomed me, I might still read out those lines. So what I had intended to say was "I take this opportunity also of welcoming the new Director-General, Juan Somavia, to the ILO". Juan may think it presumptuous of me, a mere academic from a small college, to attempt to welcome the Director-General himself to his august office. It does sound, I have to admit, like a violation of one's sense of propriety. Indeed, I recollect an event some years ago when I was told in no uncertain terms about my inability to grasp what is proper and what is not. I might share the story. I had gone to the house of a friend in Calcutta and rang the bell. After a while a girl aged about 3 appeared on the other side of the collapsible iron gates, beaming profusely. I wanted to respond to her friendliness and asked her "What is your name?" "No, no, no" said the thoughtful child "this is our home, first tell me your name"! The rebuke I received from that child was well deserved and I am sure Juan can deliver to me a similarly well-deserved admonishment for my audacity in presuming to welcome the Director-General of the ILO to the ILO.

Let me, however, plead in my defence, and Juan has kindly touched on that already, that my close association with the ILO goes back much more than a quarter of a century at least to the very early 1970s, when I had the privilege of advising the ILO and working on the World Employment Programme, as Juan kindly mentioned. In fact, going back even further, my first working association with the ILO was in 1963, when I was dispatched to Cairo. If I may continue in this line of one-upmanship I should mention two of my books written for the ILO, now that he has taken the wind out of my sails by kindly mentioning it already, and in the 1970s I was also trying to persuade the ILO to take a broad approach to the ideas of working rights. Admittedly what I did then was very crude and rough, trying to invoke ideas not only of rights but also what I call "metarights", and this has been done with clearer articulation and greater argumentative force by Somavia in his highly impressive Report Decent work.

Still, as an old ILO hand and a person with a similar commitment to Somavia's own, I do take the liberty of welcoming the new Director-General to his important office. Let me add that we expect very great things from him, we who have been associated with the ILO and look up to it for its leadership and for many other things that it does for the world, and we are delighted to see that Juan has already got off to what I can only describe as a "Grand Prix start." As soon as the starting signal was given, the document Decent work was fully launched with what must be a record timing for any report.

I might begin by asking, what is the nature of that start? That is, as reflected in this Report. And where does all this fit into the contemporary intellectual discourse on economic arrangements, social values and political realities? I should like to identify four specific features of the approach outlined in this Report which may be particularly important to examine. I shall have the opportunity of scrutinizing only two of these issues in any detail, given the limitation of time, but I shall briefly comment on the two other distinctive features towards the end of this address.

The first important feature of this document to which I want to draw attention is the firm and insightful articulation to be found here of the overall goal of the ILO. As formulated in the Report, the primary goal of the ILO is the promotion of "opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity". The reach of this objective is indeed momentously large and it is explicitly stated that the domain of coverage includes not just workers in the organized sector, nor only wage workers, but also unregulated wage workers, the self-employed and homeworkers. As the ILO's general responsibility is interpreted here, I think remarkably broadly, it has to respond to the terrible fact to which the document refers, that the world is full of overworked and unemployed people, so that these, too, are among its concerns. The ILO is in this sense "concerned with all workers", as the Report puts it.

This universality of coverage and pervasiveness of concern sets the ILO, in this comprehensive conception of its goals, apart from organizations that may act in the interests of only some groups of workers, such as those in the organized sector, or those already in employment, or those already covered by explicit labour rules and regulations. The first question, then, concerns the significance of the broad objective as the basis of programmes to be pursued by the ILO. It is easy to argue that an organization that is committed to all workers has to face many difficult questions which need not arise if the domain of concern is restricted to narrower groups, such as workers in the organized sector (leaving out the unorganized sector), or even all wage workers (leaving out homeworkers), or even all people actively in work (leaving out the unemployed). The case for choosing a more comprehensive focus cannot lie in helping the Director-General to have an easier life. The case rests rather on the importance of a comprehensive approach. There are different parts of the working population whose fortunes do not always move together, and in furthering the interests and demands of one group, it is easy to neglect the interests and demands of others. Indeed, it has often been alleged that labour organizations sometimes confine their advocacy to very narrow groups, such as unionized workers, and that narrowness of outlook can feed the neglect of legitimate concerns of other groups and also of the costs imposed on them, such as unorganized labourers or family-based workers or the long-term unemployed. Conversely, by focusing specifically on the interests of workers in the informal sector, it is also possible to neglect the hard-earned gains of people in organized industry through an attempt -- alas often recommended if only implicitly -- to level them down to the predicament of unorganized and unprotected workers.

Working people fall into distinct groups, with their own specific concerns and plights, and an organization like the ILO has excellent reason to pay attention simultaneously to the diverse concerns that are involved. Given the massive levels of unemployment that exist in many countries of the world today, indeed even in the rich economies of Western Europe, it is right that policy attention be focused on expanding jobs and working opportunities. And yet the conditions of work are also important. It is a question of placing the diverse concern within a comprehensive assessment, so that the curing of unemployment is not treated as a reason for doing away with reasonable conditions of work for those already employed, nor is the protection of workers already employed used as an excuse to keep the jobless in a state of social exclusion from the labour market and from employment. The need for trade-off is often exaggerated and is typically based on very rudimentary reasoning. I shall have to say more on this presently. Further, even when trade-offs have to be faced inescapably, they can be more reasonably addressed by taking a broader and inclusive approach than by simply giving full priority to just one group, whether the informal sector or organized sector or whatever, over another.

Let me illustrate my point by referring to another problem -- that of ageing and the dependency ratio -- which is often juxtaposed, in an unexamined way, to the problem of unemployment and availability of work. There are two principles that are in some tension with each other, which are frequently invoked simultaneously in dealing with these different issues in an intellectually autarchic way.

Addressing the growing proportion of the aged population, especially in the richer countries, it is often lamented that since old people cannot work, they have to be supported by those who are young enough to work. This leads inescapably to a sharp increase in the so-called dependency ratio. As it happens, this fact itself demands more scrutiny. There is, in fact, considerable evidence that the increase in longevity that has resulted from medical achievements has also elongated the disability-free length of life over which a person can work. For example, the report by Marton, Corder et al. in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 1997 demonstrates how work-affecting disabilities have dramatically fallen among the elderly population in the United States. The possibility of elongating working life is further reinforced by the nature of the technical progress occurring, which makes less demand on physical strength.

This being the case, it is natural to suggest that one way of reducing the burden of dependency related to ageing is to raise the retirement age, or at least give people in good health the option to go on working. In resisting this proposal, it is frequently argued that if this were done, then the aged would replace the younger workers and there would be more unemployment among the young. But this argument is in real tension with the previous argument that the root of the problem of ageing lies in the fact that old people cannot work and the young, who can, have to support the old.

If health and working ability ultimately determine how much work can potentially be done (and certainly social and economic arrangements can be geared to make sure that to a great extent the potential is realized), then surely the trade-off with youthful unemployment is a real non sequitur. The absolute size of the working population does not, in itself, cause more unemployment. For example, it is not the case that countries with a larger working population typically have a larger proportion of unemployment (like the United States vis--vis France or Italy or Spain or Belgium). Quite the contrary. There are many big issues to be faced in scrutinizing the proposals for revising the retiring age. That is a very big issue and I do not want to address it so off-handedly but I am just pointing out how conflicts are often seen when none might exist. But linking unemployment to the absolute size of the working population does not enrich this complex discussion. Indeed, the combination of the gut reaction to the effect that the source of the problem of an ageing population is that the old cannot work with the gut reaction that the young must lose jobs if the older people did work is to provide a hopeless impasse which rides just on unexamined possibilities, based on a simple presumption of conflict that may or may not actually exist. I am afraid quite a lot of thinking on labour economics is really governed by presumption of conflicts which have not been thoroughly examined.

The practice of being driven by imagined conflicts and being led by partisan solutions is as counterproductive in dealing with issues of ageing and employment as it is in addressing the problem of working conditions of employed labour, on the one hand, and the more employment on the other. We have to recognize that conflicts cannot be made to go away by simply ignoring them on behalf of one group or the other, whether they are the employed, unemployed, organized or unorganized, or whatever. Nor need conflicts invariably arise merely because some elementary textbook reasoning suggests that they might conceivably exist, under certain hypothesized conditions. There is a need for facing empirical possibilities with open-mindedness and also for addressing ethical issues of balancing, of interests, without prejudging it simply by giving total priority to one group against another. And from that point of view, the comprehensive approach that Decent work takes is just right.

Similar questions arise in dealing with the difficult problem of child labour, which the Director-General's Report addresses quite forcefully. Arguing against moves of this kind, that is, outlawing child labour of certain types, it is often claimed that the abolition of child labour will harm the interests of the children themselves, since they may end up starving because of a lack of family income and also because of increased neglect. It is certainly right that the fact of family poverty must be considered in dealing with this issue. There is no escape from that. But it is not at all clear why it must be presumed that the abolition of child labour will lead only to a reduction of family income and further neglect of children, without any other economic or social or educational adjustment. In fact, that lack of adjustment would be a particularly unlikely scenario for the "worst forms of child labour" (slavery, bondage, prostitution, trafficking, etc.) on which the ILO Report particularly concentrates.

The case for a broader and more inclusive economic analysis and ethical examination is very strong in all these cases. Decent work is right to point in that comprehensive direction without falling prey to unexamined prejudices or premature pessimism.

I turn now to the identification of a second conceptual feature in this articulation -- the use of the idea of rights. I feel quite nostalgic about it, since in the early 1970s in the ILO with the World Employment Programme I was trying very much to argue in that direction. In terms of evaluative conception, the overall goal on which I have commented already gives the programming of the ILO a distinctly goal-based form, as I have just discussed. There are some goals to be promoted and these goals are stated with force and lucidity. And yet, despite the importance that is attached to the far-reaching formulation of overall objectives to be promoted by the ILO, the domain of practical reasoning is extended beyond the aggregated objectives to the recognition of general rights of workers.

What makes this rights-based formulation particularly significant is that the rights covered are not confined only to established labour legislation, nor only to the task, important as it is, of establishing new legal rights through fresh legislation. Rather, the evaluative framework begins with acknowledging certain basic rights, whether or not they are legislated, as being a part of a decent society. The practical implications that emanate from this acknowledgement can go beyond new legislation to other social, political and economic actions. "All those who work", says the Director-General's Report, "have rights at work". That is a direct italicized quote from the Report. The framework of rights-based thinking is thus extended from legalities to ethical claims that transcend legal recognition. In this way, the Report is strongly in line with what is becoming increasingly the United Nations general approach to practical policy through rights-based reasoning, including the kind of argument I had the opportunity of hearing while visiting WHO last month and also the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The framework of rights-based thinking is thus extended from the pure domain of legality to the broader arena of social ethics. These rights can thus be seen as being prior, rather than posterior, to legal recognition. Indeed, social acknowledgement of these rights can be taken to be an invitation to the law to catch up with social ethics. But the invitation is not merely to fresh legislation, important as it is, since the realization of rights can also be helped by other developments, such as the creation of new institutions, better working of existing institutions and, last but not least, by a general political and social commitment to work for the appropriate functioning of social, political and economic arrangements to facilitate recognized rights.

There are really two contrasts here: one between legal rights and socially accepted principles of justice on which I have just commented, and another contrast between rights-based reasoning and goal-based formulations of social ethics, on the development of which I should also briefly comment, even though it has been the subject earlier of a big academic dispute.

In scrutinizing the approach pursued by the Director-General, we have to ask how well does rights-based reasoning integrate with goal-based programming, which is also invoked by the ILO Report. These two basic precepts have sometimes been seen, especially by legal theorists such as my friend and colleague to whom I used to teach courses for many a year, the great lawyer, Ronald Dworkin, as in tension with one another because they provide alternative ethical outlooks that are in some conflict.

Are we to be guided, in case of a conflict, by the primacy of our social goals, or are we to be guided by the priority of individual rights? That is the form in which the question is posed.

Can the two perspectives be simultaneously invoked without running into an internal contradiction? I believe that the two approaches are not really in tension with each other, provided they are appropriately formulated, and I have tried to discuss that issue extensively in writing, both in philosophical journals and also in a forthcoming book, called Development as Freedom.

The underlying methodological question has to be addressed, and I have to examine, though briefly, the reason for thinking that there is no big conflict here. The question that has to be faced is this: why cannot the fulfilment of rights be among the goals to be pursued? The presumption that there must be a conflict here has indeed been asserted but the question is why must we accept that claim? There will quite possibly be a real impasse here if we want to make the fulfilment of each right to be a matter of absolute adherence, as some libertarian philosophers do.

But most rights-based reasoning in political debates, including those concerning human rights and other rights-based reasoning in the United Nations system, does not take that form.

I have discussed these issues that I mentioned elsewhere. If the formulation is carefully done to allow trade-off that has to be faced, then it is indeed possible to value the realization of rights, as well as the fulfilment of other objectives and goals.

The "rights at work" can be broadly integrated within the same overall framework, which also demands "opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity". To pay attention to any of these demands does not require us to ignore other concerns, and the rights of those at work can be considered along with the interests of the unemployed.

There is a different type of question that is sometimes raised, focusing on the relation between rights and duties. Some academics -- and I have particularly drawn upon some well-known philosophers -- have taken the view that rights can be sensibly formulated only in combination with correlated duties; that is, if I have a right to "x", that right makes sense if some specified individual or agent has a duty to provide me with "x", otherwise the right does not make sense. Those who insist on that binary linkage tend to be very critical, in general, of any discussion of rights -- for example invoking the rhetoric of "human rights" -- without specification of responsible agents and their specific duties to bring about the fulfilment of these rights. Demands for human rights are, then, seen just as loose talk, maybe laudable loose talk, but loose talk nevertheless. And the same may be said of such statements as "all those who work have rights at work"; this could be viewed with the same critical perspective.

A basic concern that motivates some of this scepticism is: how can we be sure that rights are, in fact, realizable unless they are matched by corresponding duties? Indeed, some do not see any sense in a right unless it is balanced by what Immanuel Kant called "a perfect obligation" -- a specific duty of a particular agent for the actual realization of that right.

This presumption can be the basis of rights-based thinking in many areas of practical reason. Indeed, aside from the general scepticism which tends to come from many lawyers, there are distinguished philosophers, such as my colleague Dr. O'Nora O'Neill, Principal of Newnham College, Cambridge, who have argued in favour of the binary linkage between rights and the exact duties of specified individuals or agencies, and who would have viewed such things as "All those who work have rights at work" with total suspicion.

What we have to ask, however, is this. Why this insistence? Why demand the absolute necessity of co-specified perfect obligation for a potential right to qualify as a real right? Certainly, a perfect obligation would help a great deal toward the realization of rights. But why cannot there be unrealized rights and, under certain circumstances, even perhaps some -- hopefully few -- even unrealizable rights? We do not, in any obvious sense, contradict ourselves by saying these people had all these rights, but alas they were not realized, because they were not institutionally grounded. That is not a contradictory statement. Something else has to be invoked, to jump from pessimism about the fulfilment of rights, all the way to the denial of the rights themselves, which I believe is the product of a deep-seated confusion.

This distinction may appear to be partly a matter of language, and it might be thought that the rejection -- that rejection that philosophers and lawyers sometimes argue for -- can be based on how the term "rights" functions in common discourse. But that is not the case. In public debates and discussion, the term "rights" is used much more widely than would be permitted by the insistence on strict binary relations. Perhaps the perceived problem arises from an implicit attempt to see the use of rights in political and moral discourse through a close analogy with rights in a legal system, with its demand for specification of correlated duties. This is, by the way, exactly the way Jeremy Bentham looked at it more than 200 years ago when he described such general rights, including the kind of rights we are talking about here, as being not only nonsense but, as he put it, "nonsense on stilts", meaning highly elevated nonsense, artificially raised up. In contrast to that curious view, in normative discussions rights are often championed as entitlements or powers or immunities that it would be good for people to have. Human rights are seen as rights shared by all, irrespective of citizenship; they are advantages that everyone should have. The claims are addressed generally and, as Kant might say, imperfectly, to anyone who can help, even though no particular person or agency may be charged to bring about singlehandedly the fulfilment of the rights involved. In fact, Kant had an extensive discussion about imperfect obligation which fits exactly with this concept of human rights in the United Nations system that Juan Somavia presented here.

Even if it is not feasible that everyone can have the fulfilment of their rights in this sense (if, for example, it is not yet possible to eliminate undernourishment altogether), credit can still be taken for the extent to which the alleged rights are fulfilled and alleged violations of rights are prevented. There is a clear matrix there which could be used in any social choice exercise. The recognition of such claims as rights may not only be an ethically important statement, it can also help to focus attention on these matters, making their fulfilment that much more likely, or quicker.

This is indeed the form in which many major champions of rights-based thinking have tried to use the idea of rights, going back all the way to Bentham's own contemporaries, Thomas Paine's, Rights of man, and Mary Wollstonecraft's A vindication of the rights of women published, incidentally, contemporaneously with Bentham.

The invoking of the idea of rights in this document, Decent work, is in that grand tradition. It is neither in tension with the broadly goal-based ethical framework, as I have already argued, nor ruled out by some presumed necessity of perfect obligations allegedly needed to make sense of the idea of rights. The broad approach adopted here can be defended not just in terms of good commonsense appeal, but also in terms of capturing the variety of values and concerns that tend to arise in public discussion and demands.

I turn now, briefly, to two other distinctive features of the approach outlined in this Report, which I shall identify but not have the opportunity to discuss in any great detail. I note as a third distinguishing feature of the approach that it situates conditions of work and employment within a broad economic, political and social framework and, in fact, even the main aim of the ILO Report, Decent work, which I quoted earlier, included dignity and such. It addresses, for example, not merely the requirement of labour legislation and practice, but also the need for an open society and "the promotion of social dialogue". The lives of working people are, of course, directly affected by the rules and conventions that govern their employment and work. But they are also influenced, ultimately, by their freedoms as citizens with a voice that can influence policies, as well as institutional choices.

In fact, it can be shown that protection against vulnerability and contingency, on which the Director-General's Report also focuses, is, to a great extent, conditional on the working of democratic participation and the operation of political incentives that work on the governments. I have tried to argue elsewhere that it is a remarkable fact in the history of famines, that famines do not occur in democracies. Indeed, no substantial famine has ever occurred in a democratic and independent country, no matter how poor. This is because famines are, in fact, extremely easy to prevent if the government tries to prevent them and a government in a multi-party democracy with elections and a free media has strong political incentives to undertake famine prevention. This would indicate that political freedom in the form of democratic arrangements helps to safeguard economic freedom (especially from extreme starvation) and the freedom to survive (against famine mortality).

The security provided by democracy may not be sorely missed when a country is lucky enough to be facing no serious calamity, when everything is running along smoothly. But as a matter of fact, the danger of insecurity arising from changes in the economic or other circumstances, or from uncorrected mistakes of policy, can lurk solidly behind what looks like a healthy State. This is an important connection to bear in mind in examining the political aspects of the recent so-called Asian economic crisis.

The problems of some of the East and South-East Asian economies bring out, among other things, the penalty of undemocratic governance. This is so in two striking respects involving the neglect of two crucial instrumental freedoms, namely protective security -- what we have just been discussing in line with the Report on Decent work -- and transparency guarantees, an issue that is closely linked with the provision of adequate incentives to economic and political agents. Both relate, directly or indirectly, to safeguarding decent work and to promoting decent lives.

Taking the latter issue first, the development of the financial crisis in some of these economies has been closely linked with the lack of transparency in business, in particular the lack of public participation in reviewing financial and business arrangements. The absence of an effective democratic forum has been consequential in this failing. The opportunity that would have been provided by democratic processes to challenge the hold of selected families or groups in several of these countries could have made a very big difference.

The discipline of financial reform that the International Monetary Fund tried to impose on the economies in default was, to a great extent, necessitated by the lack of openness and disclosure, and the involvement of unscrupulous business linkages that were characteristic in parts of these economies. I am not commenting here on whether the IMF's management of the crises was exactly right, or whether the insistence on immediate reforms could have been sensibly postponed until financial confidence had returned in these economies. I have tried to discuss that issue elsewhere, I am not commenting on it here, now. But no matter how these adjustments would have been best done, the contribution of the lack of transparency and freedom in predisposing these economies to economic crises cannot be easily doubted, and need for reform there certainly was.

The pattern of risk and improper investments, especially by politically influential families, could have been placed under much greater scrutiny if democratic critics had demanded it in, say yesterday's Indonesia, or yesterday's South Korea. But of course neither of these countries then had the democratic system that would have allowed such demands to come from outside the government. The unchallenged power of the potential rulers was easily translated into an unquestioned acceptance of the lack of accountability and openness, often reinforced by strong family links between the government and the financial bosses. In the emergence of the economic crises, the undemocratic nature of the governments played an important part.

Second, once the financial crisis led to a general economic recession, the protective power of democracy -- not unlike that which prevents famines in democratic countries -- was very badly missed. The newly dispossessed did not have the hearing they needed. A fall of total gross national product, when you think about it, of, say, even 10 per cent, which is all that happened maximally, may not look like much, if it follows the experience of past growth of 5 to 10 per cent per year every year for some decades. You might wonder what is the problem. Just a small fall after a big, big rise. Yet, that decline can ruin lives, create misery and raise mortality for millions if the burden of contraction is not shared together but allowed to be heaped on those -- the unemployed and those newly made economically redundant -- who can least bear it. The vulnerable in Indonesia may not have missed democracy acutely when things went up and up, but that very lacuna kept their voices muffled and ineffective as the unequally shared crisis developed. The protective role of democracy is strongly missed when it is most needed.

I would argue that the comprehensive view of society that characterizes the approach adopted in Decent work provides a more promising understanding of the needs of different institutions and different policies in pursuit of the rights and interests of the working people.

It is not adequate to concentrate only on labour legislation, since people do not live and work in a compartmentalized environment. The linkages between economic, political and social actions and possibilities can be critical to the realization of rights and to the pursuit of broad objectives of decent work and adequate living for working people.

I come finally to the fourth distinctive feature of the approach under discussion. While an organization such as the ILO has to go beyond national policies (without of course overlooking the instrumental importance of action by governments and societies within each nation), there is a crucial distinction between an "international" approach, and a "global" approach, and this distinction is often confounded. I think we should note, and I of course was pleased, that in the context of the Decent work reporting, the distinction was sharply kept in mind, if only implicitly. An "international" approach is inescapably parasitic on the relation between nations, since it works through the intermediary of distinct countries and nations. In contrast, a truly global approach need not see human beings only as, or even primarily as, citizens of particular countries, nor accept that the interactions between citizens of different countries must be inevitably intermediated through the relations between distinct nations. Many global institutions, including those central to our working lives, have to go well beyond the limits of "international" relations.

The beginning of a truly global approach can be readily detected in the analysis that gives shape to this important report. The increasingly globalized world economy calls for a similarly globalized approach to basic ethics and political and social procedures. The market economy itself is not merely an international system. Its global connections run beyond the relation between nations: it is very often relations between individuals in different countries, between different parties in a business transaction. Capitalist ethics, with its strong as well as its weak points, is a quintessentially twentieth century global culture, not just an international construct. In dealing with conditions of working lives, as well as the interests and rights of workers in general, there is a similar necessity to go beyond the narrow limits of international relations: not just beyond the national boundaries but even beyond international relations into global connections.

A global approach is, of course, a part of the heritage of labour movements in world history. I take the opportunity of recollecting that, because time and again labour movements have taken a global form without being confined particularly to nation states, and that is an important part of their heritage. This rich heritage, often neglected in official discussions, can indeed be fruitfully invoked in rising to the challenges of decent work in the contemporary world. A universalist understanding of work and working relations can be linked to a tradition of solidarity and commitment. The need for invoking such a global response has never been stronger than it is now. The economically globalizing world, with all its opportunities as well as its problems and difficulties, calls for a similarly globalized understanding of the priority of decent work and of its manifold demands on economic, political and social arrangements. To recognize this pervasive need is itself a very fine beginning.

Updated by HK. Approved by RH. Last update: 26 January 2000.