Opening Address to the ILO Asian and Pacific Regional Roundtable on Roles of Enterprises and Society Partnerships

by Ms Mitsuko Horiuchi, Regional Director, ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Statement | Bangkok | 22 September 1999

Honourable Minister,

Distinguished Resource Persons,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure for me to welcome you all to this Asia and Pacific Round Table on Roles of Enterprises and Society Partnerships.

I would like first to thank the Honourable Minister of Industry, Mr Suwat Liptapanlob for gracing this meeting with his presence and accepting our invitation to deliver the inaugural address.

I also wish to thank the resource persons who have come to share with us important examples of good practice in our region. Their contributions will set the stage for the high level of discussions and debate ahead.

Ladies and gentlemen,

During its 80 years of existence the ILO has helped to establish a social framework in which to address the broader issues confronting working people everywhere.

Enterprises have always been a core concern of the ILO’s. Its commitment to social justice for all ensures that the evolution of enterprises is as important to us as the growth of social institutions. Within our Organization, enterprise representatives are on a par with those of workers and governments.

As recently as 1998 the International Labour Conference adopted a new Recommendation designed to promote the "fundamental role of small and medium-sized enterprises" in generating "full, productive and freely chosen employment".

Today, countries in every corner of the world have embraced the principles of market economies and democratic process. As a result, the quality of people’s lives and the health of their country’s economy depends more than ever on the dynamism of enterprises, particularly those in the private sector.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Asian crisis, from which recovery is underway, has shown how far-reaching the effects of globalization are in East and South-East Asia. Those effects – some beneficial, many not – may have been felt more strongly here than in any other part of the world.

The prosperity and inequalities wrought by globalization in our region go to the very principles on which the ILO was founded. As stated in the ILO Constitution, "universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice".

The crisis, which left millions without proper employment and plunged them into poverty, represents a stark challenge for the international community generally and the ILO in particular.

In his aptly titled report to this year’s International Labour Conference, Decent Work, Director-General Juan Somavia observed that the crisis in emerging markets had "made evident the need for a strong social framework to underpin the search for a new financial architecture".

But Mr Somavia’s strategy goes much further. Noting that "the primary goal of the ILO today is to promote opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity", he has defined four strategic objectives:

    1. fundamental principles and rights at work;
    2. decent employment and income for women and men;
    3. social protection for all; and
    4. tripartism and social dialogue.

There is only one way to achieve those goals, and it is by working together.

The topics you have come here to consider are all closely related to the achievement of these goals. As globalization and new technologies step up competition on a scale never seen before, we know that human resources management will make an ever greater difference in the new world economy.

The competitive edge in that economy lies in the knowledge and skills of the workforce. Mr Hiroshi Okuda, the President of Toyota Motors, recently stressed in a popular Japanese magazine, the importance of "long-term vision and people-centred economic activity" for corporate restructuring. In his recent book, The Economics of Compassion, Kenneth Galbraith makes a very similar call for social accountability in the public and private sectors.

The essential elements of their shared vision for reform are well known. During a Symposium on the Asian crisis in Geneva last March Governing Body, our constituents spelled them out:

(a) Democracy as a guarantor of basic human rights, of transparent and hence sound economic and social policies, and of social justice;

(b) Social dialogue for sustaining democracy and open policy debate; and

(c) Strong systems of social protection.

Ladies and gentlemen,

When heads of State and Government met in Copenhagen in 1995 at a historic World Summit for Social Development they made a solemn commitment to the goal of full and productive employment. We believe that this goal can be attained, however threatening the pace of technological change, however high the level of competition worldwide.

To succeed, we need only create an environment in which enterprises have the incentive to put their money into employment creation. In designing those incentives, we must, as the title of Mr Somavia’s report suggests, aim not just for any work, but decent work.

In our region, which, unfortunately, is home to the world’s largest share of poor people, there can be no higher priority than the creation of decent work for all. Hence, the importance of the task that brings us together today.

Ladies and gentlemen,

There may be some here today who feel that corporate citizenship can apply only at more advanced stages of economic development. To reassure them, I shall take a single example: that of child labour. In his June address to the International Labour Conference US President Clinton cited our success in eliminating child labour from the soccer ball industry in Pakistan. Just two years ago, he noted, thousands of children under the age of 14 were stitching soccer balls full time for 50 companies. In collaboration with UNICEF, the ILO has taken those children out of that industry and given them a chance to go to school, while continuing to monitor the results.

Such efforts are a tribute to the ILO’s consensual approach based on the combined efforts of concerned, responsible employers, workers and governments.

Our efforts must also be directed to the creation of an enabling environment for all workers, women and men. In many parts of Asia, women are overworked, underpaid and left to their own devices. In more and more sectors and occupations, however, progress is being made. We shall no doubt learn more at this meeting about the special problems facing women entrepreneurs and how to overcome them.

Ladies and gentlemen,

By helping to forge new partnerships and furthering the development of thriving and responsible enterprises your work will demonstrate, better than any speeches, that we are an organization of workers, governments and employers.

That is our greatest strength. It is a strength that enables us to reach out and promote democratic, open societies based on a new vision of partnerships between government, social partners and civil society.

I wish you very fruitful deliberations.