Opening Remarks by Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific at the Alliance 8.7 Consultation for the Pacific Islands

Statement | Nadi, Fiji | 02 October 2017
Ms Tomoko Nishimoto - Assistant Director-General of the ILO and Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

A very warm welcome to all of you who have come from the Pacific Islands, from Bangkok and from Geneva.

I am very pleased to have an opportunity to be back to this beautiful part of the world only four months after my last visit in May. Then we had a very successful tripartite dialogue on Future of Work. The pressing issues which deeply affect the world and this sub-region, such as climate change and youth employment were extensively discussed during the May sub-regional Future of Work dialogue.

The discussion on the "interlinkage" between climate action and decent work has since been gaining the momentum culminating in the forthcoming UN Convention on Climate Change COP23 to be held in November under the Presidency of Fiji.

We are very excited about the prospect of the importance to be placed on just transition to greener economy and society as a voice from the Pacific block at the Climate Change negotiation. It is very exciting to witness that this sub-region is taking an increasingly important leadership role in the field of climate change.

My visit in May was my first ever visit to the sub-region. Among other things, I was deeply impressed by the tradition of consultation and dialogue called "talanoa". A wonderful tradition and good example of inclusiveness. I also realized how big the size of this sub-region is. You are collectively referred to as SIDS Small Islands Developing States. Indeed your islands may be small, but considering the oceans within your national boundaries, you are all big countries. You are the BOSs, B-O-Ss – Big Ocean States.

I was also told that people in the Pacific are warm and big-hearted people. I fully agree. It is true. I enjoyed a wonderful warm hospitality and kindness in May and since my arrival over the weekend.

Ladies and gentlemen, today I am back with my team to discuss yet another set of very important topics – child labour, forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking.

I understand you were invited to gather here because you all are key persons who hold the technical knowledge on these topics, and you all play an essential and influential role in your respective countries on these matters.

I thank each one of you for the commitment, contribution and leadership which made the past progress possible in these very challenging areas of work. I do hope that we will be able to have profound and candid discussions with you all during this week.

To open hopefully a very vibrant discussion, I have three key messages at the onset. The first message is a question – how serious is the situation? The second message is a call for action. And the third message is an offer of our support.

First – the question of how serious? ILO in collaboration with Walk Free Foundation just released new estimates at the margin of the recent United Nations General Assembly session. The new estimates indicate: on any given day, 40 million people are forced to work under threat or coercion, all victims of modern slavery, forced labour or human trafficking. 62 million children in Asia and the Pacific must still work for their survival and that of their families.

I hope you would agree with me – this situation is unacceptable in this 21st century.

Actually, the whole world agrees. As the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted by world leaders in 2015, all countries committed themselves to achieving 17 inter-related sustainable development goals (SDGs) along with 169 associated targets to guide global development. Among these 17 Sustainable Development Goals, SDG 8 is decent work for all.

Among the targets agreed under SDG 8, Target 8.7 calls for “immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour”.

Yes, the whole world already agreed that child labour, forced labour, modern slavery or human trafficking is not acceptable, and must be eliminated.

And yet, the figures are staggering. 40 million people are forced to work. And 62 million children in Asia and the Pacific under child labour.

So how many of these millions of vulnerable people are here in this sub-region? How serious the situation is in the Pacific region? “Not so serious” I was told by some people. Or others told me “almost none existent”. If this is true, that is great new. The truth however is “we do not know” - meaning we practically have little or no data from this sub-region.

If we have great news that there is little child labour or forced labour in these Big Ocean States with warm and big-hearted people, I dare you - let us prove it.

The region of the ‘Big Ocean States’ that are leading the change for environmental sustainability and fight against climate change, even when increasingly worrisome narratives are emerging on the other side of the world. You have shown the world and continue to show that you are committed to making the world a better place to live for all, particularly for the vulnerable. You have shown and continue to show how societal cohesion and innovation could make the difference for the people who are vulnerable.

Imagine the world where the Pacific Island countries or Big Ocean States takes the leadership in advocating not only for environmental sustainability and fight against climate change, but also social sustainability, and ultimately advocating for a sustainable and inclusive world, where social justice prevails. That courageous leadership can start today by renewing our resolve to lead the world in in achieving SDG 8.7.

In particular, SDG 8.7 calls for the elimination of child labour in all forms by 2025. For child labour, the commitment is we do not wait till 2030. We achieve it by 2025. That is, ladies and gentlemen, only 8 years from now. It could start with this part of SDG 8.7. Imagine the Pacific Islands with no child labour. That is a vision well fitted with your renowned image as a paradise.

So what must we do? This my second point – a call for action.

We need to start collecting the data, for example, by instituting a systematic way to monitor the situation.

In addition, ending child labour and modern slavery requires integrated thinking, coordinated actions, effective policy making and efficient use of resources in a manner we’ve never seen before.

A coherent strategy will include policies that touch upon fundamental rights of workers, education, social protection, labour inspection, informality, youth employment, gender, migration and labour law, while also strengthening our knowledge base through and statistics and research.

In addition, achieving SDG 8.7 will require mobilising partnerships at a new level. Partnerships that harness energy, resources and strategic, political vision.

It requires the active involvement of all parts of society, of all of us: Governments, workers’ and employers’ organizations, private sector, civil society and community organizations, faith-based groups, academia, media...

And that’s what Alliance 8.7 is about and why we are here: a multi-stakeholder initiative accelerating timelines, conducting research and sharing knowledge, driving innovation, and leveraging resources to accelerate efforts to achieve the target.

There are already some encouraging signs, especially in Asia which has seen the largest decline in child labour since 2012 – by 2%.

This progress was accomplished by moving away from isolated approaches. Using evidence-based policies informed by research and statistics that tackle the root causes of child labour, while strengthening countries’ legal framework and enforcement.

And some of you here can help monitor and ensure adequate legal frameworks to prevent and eradicate child labour, forced labour and human trafficking in their countries.

I also can suggest another action for you to take immediately. If you, the Big Ocean States (BOSs) wish to take the lead in taking the world in this regard, it is important for you as BOSs to explicitly express the political commitment as such.

This includes ratifying the relevant core conventions of the ILO: Convention No 182 on the elimination of the worst forms of child labour, Convention 29 on forced labour, and its 2014 Protocol.

In particular, within the context of Alliance 8.7 we are calling for the universal ratification of Convention No. 182 on the worst forms of child labour. It is one of the most widely ratified ILO Conventions, almost universally ratified with 181 out of 187 countries have ratified it.

Six more member states to make it truly universally ratified. Of the six remaining countries that have yet to ratify Convention No. 182, five are right here in the Pacific. The sixth one is in Africa.

If we know that you are all committed to the Agenda 2030 and the SDGs, including SDG8.7, and if each of you are proud to be a paradise nation even now almost without children under worst forms of child labour, and if we know you are all very close to achieving the elimination of child labour, why not show the world what you are made of - by signing up Convention No. 182.

This represents a remarkable opportunity for this region and for the global community—to record a historic milestone, even, because the universal ratification of Convention No. 182 would be a global first: the very first universal ratification of an ILO fundamental human rights Convention. You can make a history.

Here in this conference room, we have important leaders of the Pacific, who are tackling these issues. Who would not be inspired to make such a historic and heroic move?

Historic because it will be the first in ILO’s nearly 100 years of its history, and heroic because we all know taking a step for ratification means you would be tasked to implementing what you would commit to. Indeed it is a big challenge you would take on. But we all know, leaders like you can get more inspired and motivated when challenges are daunting.

That, ladies and gentlemen, leads me to make my third point – offering our support. I am here with my team of committed ILO staff – from our office in Suva, the regional office and Decent Work Team in Bangkok and the Headquarters in Geneva. Our office in Suva is your immediate contact point. We are in the process of strengthening the office. The Regional Office stands ready to provide necessary support as needed. The Decent Work Team in Bangkok has technical experts and specialists on Labour Standards, Fundamental Rights at Work and other relevant areas of expertise. The staff at HQs have been tirelessly working on pulling the 8.7 Global Alliance together.

The response of commitments and actions from ILO member states, social partners and other stakeholders to the call for the 8.7 Global Alliance have been over-whelming. We all stand ready to render the assistance you may need to fulfil your commitments.

Ladies and Gentlemen, our timeframe is clear: We have eight years left to fulfil our commitment to eliminate child labour by 2025. And only a few more to eradicate modern slavery, human trafficking and forced labour.

I do hope that we can make the most of our three days here and see how the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, SDG 8 and more specifically SDG 8 Target 8.7 can be translated into effective action and measurable results locally.

I reiterate my three points – First, I shared with you how serious is the situation in the world is, and pointed out the situation of the Pacific region is unclear due to the lack of data. The second point was a call for action – more specifically for you to establish a systematic way of collecting the data and monitoring the situation; and for you to ratify Convention No. 182 to make it to the historic first universal ratification in the history of ILO human rights conventions. The third point is our offer of support – technical and otherwise.

The outcomes of this consultation will feed into the 4th Global Conference on Child Labour in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in November this year. An opportunity for the Pacific bloc to take your strong voice and commitment to the world stage. There would be a session for each country to pledge. Those who have not ratified ILO Convention 182, here is your opportunity to pledge to do so.

Additionally, the outcomes of this consultation are expected to feed into country level initiatives to accelerate the realisation of Target 8.7.

Finally, I’d like to say how honoured the ILO is to have been able to convene this consultation. I’d like to thank each one of you Ladies and gentlemen. Your presence here today shows we are ready to step up our efforts to achieve a world free of child labour, free of forced labour, modern slavery or human trafficking.

I wish you a very fruitful meeting and I look forward to seeing the recommendations you will produce. Let us remember – you could be making history.

Thank you.