Opening Address to ILO/ESCAP Unlocking Potential: A Multinational Corporation Roundtable on Disability and Development

by Mr Shinichi Hasegawa, Regional Director of ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Statement | Bangkok | 06 July 2005

Good morning ladies and gentlemen.

On behalf of the ILO’s Regional Office for and the Pacific, it gives me great pleasure to welcome you to this event: “Unlocking Potential: A Multinational Roundtable on Disability and Employment”.

This is a special day. To our knowledge, this Multinational Corporation Roundtable is the first of its kind in the region. It brings together representatives of multinational companies, governments, NGOs and disabled persons to discuss the business case for training and employing disabled people. In particular I would like to highlight that all of the companies and almost all of the other participants here today have come at their own expense. This demonstrates a remarkable commitment to the issue. Thank you for that.

To the companies in particular - I applaud your foresight and motivation. Whatever your reason for being here - a commitment to equity in the workplace, social responsibility, the business case or to learn what other companies are doing – you are most welcome. This meeting is designed with your needs in mind and I sincerely hope you will find it worthwhile.

I also want to thank our partners in organizing this meeting; UN ESCAP, and the Employment and Poverty Alleviation Task Force of the UN Thematic Working Group. Your efforts are much appreciated.

Those of you familiar with the ILO know that we promote decent work for all. By decent work we mean productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, dignity and human security. All people, disabled or nondisabled, whether living in , or , seek decent work. They want to contribute to their communities and support their families.

At the ILO, we use a range of methods to promote the standards that underpin decent work. These include internationally-binding Conventions, as well as recommendations and codes of practice. In doing so, our organization can leverage a unique strength, because our members include employers and workers organizations as well as governments. We also liaise closely with nongovernmental organizations in our journey towards the goal of “decent work for all”.

The ILO began working on disability issues as far back as 1925. Then, we encouraged the development of workers’ compensation and social security-based programmes for workers injured on the job. More recently, ILO Convention 159 on the Vocational Rehabilitation of Disabled Persons was adopted in 1983. It obliges governments to develop, in collaboration with employers, trade unions and disabled persons, a vocational rehabilitation policy. This policy should include measures to encourage the employment of disabled persons into the open labour market and their inclusion in services programmes designed for the general population.

In 2002 the ILO adopted the “Code of Practice for Managing Disability in the Workplace”. This provides specific guidance to employers in hiring and retaining disabled employees. These and related ILO standards are based on the principles of equal opportunity and equal treatment of disabled workers as compared to regular workers.

We know that people with disabilities face many barriers and inequities when they try to enter and thrive in the economic mainstream. But today’s meeting will focus on something different, the business case for hiring people with disabilities. Basically, the business case states that a diverse workforce, one that includes people with disabilities, contributes to a company’s efficiency, productivity and overall business success.

Too often however, the contributions that disabled workers make or could make to the workplace are overlooked. So today we will also recognize and celebrate some of these contributions. We will also discuss ways that multinational companies can attract more disabled people into their workforces, and how other workplaces can follow their example.

Ladies and gentlemen, people with disabilities not only have a right to decent work, they can help create a decent work environment, where diversity is valued, equality is a reality and ability is recognized. Whatever your perspective--- from the rights-based, social responsibility or the business case view --- we need your input, so we can ensure the full participation of people with disabilities in the workplace.

It is the right thing to do.

In conclusion, I would like to quote to you of one of the principles adopted by the ILO more than 60 years ago, in 1944. It states: Poverty anywhere constitutes a danger to prosperity everywhere. Perhaps this is the essence of the business case.

I wish you a productive and profitable day, and I look forward to hearing the outcome of this important gathering.