Economic and Social Council 2015 Integration Summit

"Making Dignity and Prosperity the Norm"

Keynote Address by Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General. Economic and Social Council Integration Segment, New York 31 March 2015

Statement | New York | 31 March 2015
Thank you very much indeed, Chair. Greetings to all of you and most particularly to our distinguished and tripartite panel this morning - I must say it’s been a great pleasure and a great encouragement to see the great level of interest that the theme of this year’s ECOSOC integration segment continues to evoke amongst you.

Ladies and gentlemen, in this session we are invited to discuss how we can integrate the goals of both dignity and prosperity into our global strategies for sustainable development. This is obviously a huge topic on which I’m sure everyone here has firm opinions. So I am going to limit myself to making a few opening remarks in the knowledge that our panel will ably expand upon the subject.

I’m reminded in doing so that last month, the UN convened the world’s statisticians to give advice on how to define indicators to measure progress towards goals and targets. On this session’s theme, perhaps it would have been appropriate for the UN to convene the world’s philosophers, but we’re taking a different approach.

Back in the year 2000, when at the ILO we were forming our guiding goal for the 21st century – Decent Work for All – we invited Amartya Sen to address our annual conference. He helped us to connect our conviction that labour rights are human rights, to the imperative to raise the living standards of hundreds of millions of women and men who work hard and work long, but cannot lift themselves and their families out of poverty through the fruits of that work.

Amartya Sen really liked our short definition of decent work as “opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity.”

And in a point that is particular apposite to our discussion today, he identified the linkages between economic, political, and social actions to be critical both to the realization of rights and the pursuit of the broad objectives of decent work and adequate living standards for working people. Indeed he argued strongly that there was no necessary trade-off between promoting rights at work, on the one hand, and in creating jobs for the unemployed and underemployed on the other.

And as Sen has convincingly argued, real development requires a package of overlapping mechanisms that progressively enable the exercise of a growing range of freedoms, including eliminating the “un-freedoms” that stem from a life of abject poverty.

The same point is made, slightly differently, in the ILO’s 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. There it is affirmed that the guarantee of those principles and rights is of particular significance to linking social progress and economic growth, because it enables people to claim freely and on the basis of equality of opportunity, their fair share of the wealth which they have helped to generate, and to thus achieve fully their human potential.

The fundamental rights at work set out in the Declaration are: freedom of association; the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining; the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour; the effective abolition of child labour; and the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation. Without respect for these basic human rights at work, achieving both dignity and prosperity for the world’s working women and men is quite simply inconceivable.

So I am extremely pleased to see that the Open Working Group has also restated the importance to sustainable development of labour rights and safe and secure working environments for all workers, including migrant workers, in particular women migrants, and also those in precarious employment.

The post-2015 development agenda is shaping up to be extremely ambitious. Some might say unrealistically so. But I disagree. We cannot afford to be less ambitious, it’s not realistic.
The scale and complexity of the challenges the planet and the peoples of the United Nations face demand an ambitious programme of collective action by governments, but not just by governments.

The goal of sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all requires the full engagement as well of employers’ and workers’ organizations as well as many other stakeholder groups. Engagement is based on voice and dialogue which is realized itself through the right to freedom of association.

Ladies and gentlemen, rights are essential instruments for the implementation of the new agenda; in my view, as important, maybe more so than finance. Rights enable people without resources to assert their claim to resources. The open world economy is not currently producing the quantity or the quality of jobs that people need. The repercussions of this are particularly and politically worrying, economically and socially damaging, and are hampering progress on protection of the environment.

An online rolling opinion poll by the United Nations with over seven million participants places “Better Job Opportunities” third in a list of priorities just after education and health. Support for people who cannot work is not far behind. If you add the two together they would be the No. 1 priority. As Jim Clifton, the CEO of Gallup, concludes “What everyone in the world wants is a good job.”

Reversing current trends in global labour markets and setting course for achieving the SDGs by 2030 is, I believe, an essential foundation for the political momentum and cooperation needed to fulfil the promise of the whole agenda.

The Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has suggested that the new post-2015 framework should be a global social contract which connects the peoples of the United Nations to the governments of the United Nations. What would be a more fitting way to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Charter to reconnect the multilateral system to the everyday hopes and fears of women, men, families and communities.

Making dignity and prosperity the norm is central to such a global social contract for sustainable development and its political glue is surely decent work.

I thank you for your attention.