World Day for Social Justice 2013: Message by ILO Director-General

Statement | Geneva | 20 February 2013
ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder
Global economic recovery hangs in the balance. Tipping that balance towards sustainable growth and development means tackling social injustice.

My message cannot be better expressed than in the words of the ILO’s 1919 Constitution: “Lasting peace can be established only if it is based on social justice.”

Today, there is a pervasive sense of deep injustice that the weakest are being asked to sacrifice the most. Social justice is multidimensional but, as in the late 19th century, the world of work is now at the centre of discontent and must be an integral part of the solution in shaping a different, more just global order for the future.

The finance-driven globalization model that led to the 2008 crash has left in its wake mass unemployment, underemployment and cuts in wage earnings and social benefits in many countries. It makes for a dismal global picture:
  • Social and economic inequalities in their multiple forms are rising.
  • Some 200 million women and men are unemployed.
  • A further 870 million women and men – a quarter of the world’s working people - are working but unable to lift themselves and their families above the $2 a day per person poverty line.
  • Some 74 million young women and men have no jobs. Youth unemployment is at dramatic levels in a number of countries in Europe and North Africa. The length of time young people are remaining idle is increasing and the scars of youth unemployment can last a lifetime.
  • Alongside jobless young women and men, child labour persists.
  • So too does forced labour – in seeking to escape the traps of joblessness and poverty at home, many women and men are falling into the traps of human traffickers in modern forms of slavery.
  • 80 per cent of the world’s population lacks adequate social security coverage and more than half have no coverage at all.
  • Discrimination in its many manifestations is holding back hundreds of millions, especially women, from realizing their potential and contributing on an equal footing to the development of our societies and economies.
  • And in many countries working women and men seeking to exercise their right to organize freely to uphold justice and dignity at work are prevented from forming and joining trade unions.
With full employment, the interdependent world economy would perform much better. Yet, as things stand, there is a serious danger of resort to “beggar-thy-neighbour” policies such as trade protection and competitive currency devaluation as well as wage cuts and fiscal retrenchment. This could leave everybody worse off with economies weakening, deficits widening and social inequalities deepening.

Despite this depressing context, there are encouraging signs of a desire to turn the tide. Some of the world’s most unequal societies are stepping up to the challenge of implementing smart social policies that are also an investment in a people-centred recovery.

Certain countries of developing Asia and Latin America, for example, are investing in stronger social protection floors and minimum wage setting systems. Already such policies are helping to narrow social gaps and helping to stop the world economy from slipping into a double-dip recession. A major and concerted effort, especially by the biggest and strongest, to put purchasing power into the pockets of those who need it most can fire up the engines of investment and recovery.

International cooperation and policy coordination for recovery must also transition into inclusive, equitable, sustainable global development. It is a dynamic, transformational process. It must be a productive response with a focus on generating full and productive employment and decent work for all including through support for small and medium-sized enterprises. There must be the recognition that respect for fundamental rights at work unleashes human potential and supports economic development as do social protection floors. A commitment to building a culture of social dialogue also helps to generate just, balanced and inclusive policies.

This is the underpinning of the legitimacy and sustainability of open societies and of the global economy.

Stepping up the global struggle for social justice is the right thing to do. It is also in our common interest.

We bring our commitment to decent work for all to the global challenge of realizing social justice and a fair globalization.