ILO Global Business Network for Social Protection Floors

Invest in social protection

ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, calls on businesses to help make universal social protection a reality, in a speech at the fourth annual meeting of the ILO Global Business Network for Social Protection Floors, in Geneva, Switzerland.

Statement | 23 October 2018
Thank you very much, Chair.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me add my words of welcome to the fourth annual meeting of the Global Business Network for Social Protection Floors. I am happy to see many familiar faces in the room and quite a number of new ones as well, a sign of a growing network, and so very encouraging.

Over the time of its existence this platform has become a living network where the private sector can come together to discuss, to share, and to advocate for the extension of social protection for all - and in so doing make a very important contribution to the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Colleagues, while there certainly has been a marked improvement in coverage over the past few decades, let’s remember the sobering facts. More than half of the world’s population lives without protection against life’s risks. So I think today we have to ask the question: what are the costs of not investing in social protection? Or, as a former President of the United States once said, what are the costs of comfortable inaction?

The ILO’s latest World Social Protection Report brings into stark relief what the human cost is. It means that 6 in 10 mothers would continue to have no maternity protection. It means 3 in 10 older persons will have no access to pensions or retirement. And it means 4 out of every 10 persons would have to continue living without any access to health services.

So I think you will all agree that the human costs are very clear. What are the costs to enterprises and the people who work in enterprises? Well, it seems to me that without investment in national social protection systems and additional corporate social protection guarantees, workers’ well-being will suffer and this in turn will have negative effects on productivity.

And what if we look at the cost beyond any one enterprise? Throughout the supply chain, many workers are living in countries that have less than adequate national social protection systems, thus receiving little to no coverage. Not taking action on guaranteeing a basic social protection floor for all workers can indeed open companies up to at least two types of risks. The risk of lower efficiency. And the reputational risk, that can potentially jeopardise all the positive work companies have been doing for so long to improve workers’ conditions along global supply chains.

To a large extent, lack of social protection systems translates also into missed opportunities for businesses. Countries without social protection often experience greater poverty and inequalities. Domestic demand is stifled, and then so is productivity and economic growth. But on the other hand the examples of many countries, such as China, show that investing in social protection can contribute to the development of a domestic demand for goods and services with all the knock-on effects that implies.

The costs of not investing in social protection are all real. But all of these costs are also avoidable. And that should encourage us in our efforts.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Since its establishment almost 100 years ago, the ILO, together with its constituents and many development partners, has been continuously investing in social protection. Through setting international standards, and helping governments to build adequate social protection systems, the ILO has always seen social protection not as a cost to be borne, but as a sound investment in people, in economies, and in societies. Well-run social protection systems and floors reduce the consequences of life cycle risks on people, minimize negative impacts throughout the value chain, and create a business environment that is easier and better to operate within.

The ILO’s Global Flagship Programme on Building Social Protection Floors for All is about helping governments build national social protection systems and floors, bringing coverage to tens of millions and we hope, soon, hundreds of millions more people. And the 2030 Agenda has opened the door to new partners to participate in this endeavour, because it explicitly recognizes the crucial role of non-governmental actors for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

And all of you here today are part of the advance guard, if I may refer to it as that, in making universal social protection a reality.

Today, during this meeting, you can decide and shape concrete actions you can take together with the ILO to maximize the private sector’s contribution in advancing decent work around the world. In collaboration with the ILO, you have that unique opportunity to increase your role as responsible employers, responsible buyers, and responsible leaders in society.

Your presence here is testimony to the fact that you are already doing just that. And indeed you are taking a pro-active role in discussions on corporate social protection benefit packages. Your willingness to lead by example, to engage and to encourage your peers to share good practices, to acquire more knowledge and to work on the design, development, and implementation of corporate social protection guarantees, in line with ILO standards, is a truly pivotal step that the private sector can take in seeking to improve the global social protection situation.

In that regard, if I may I would like to make special mention of the sterling work done by the Francophone business network for social protection floors and the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Sécurité Sociale in France, who I know are making significant progress in sharing knowledge and building the business case for social protection. The importance of such national networks cannot be understated, and I do hope that other countries will be encouraged by the work being undertaken in France to build their own networks as well.

Beyond this, companies can support employers’ organisations in developing their positions on social protection, as they are essential partners who play a prominent role in shaping the direction and the scope of national social protection systems, and valuable allies to enterprises looking to support these processes.

If we cast our eye to supply chains, it is a fact that all of you are prominent advocates of responsible sourcing practices. Many of you are part of global initiatives such as the ILO’s Better Work programme which aims to improve working conditions of employees across supply chains. And social protection cannot be disregarded when we consider the notion of responsibility for supply chains. This is where joining forces with the ILO can make a huge difference. By contributing to ILO country projects on social protection or to new innovative sustainable funding mechanisms, you can help to ensure that your supply chains are strong, your business risk is reduced, and that people are protected.

More than that, you can champion the right to social protection in communities worldwide. By popularizing the cause amongst your stakeholders, you can help shift public opinion towards action. Communicating on your sustainability efforts in social protection can allow you to improve your image and increase your brand loyalty, not just in the public eye but also with your current workers, and with future talents too who will be inspired to join a company with the highest social aspirations.

A concrete example is the agreement the ILO is preparing together with Nestlé, in which we are embarking on strategic collaboration on the basis of Nestlé’s commitment to ensure that every one of its workers benefits from good social protection and adequate wages and benefits to cover their needs, aligned with the ILO mandate and with the Sustainable Development Goals. I hope that this partnership will inspire other companies to work with us on comparable initiatives.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Next year will be the ILO Centenary, a unique opportunity for you to communicate on how you are supporting the social protection agenda, and promoting decent work. I hope that you will join us at this important time as we will not only celebrate past achievements, but much more importantly seek to shape the future of work and the future of social protection.

As you know, the ILO can cooperate with you in numerous ways. Cooperate with you as you strive to be a responsible employer, and identify and retain the best talent. Cooperate with you being a responsible purchaser, and ensuring your supply chains are sustainable. And cooperate in your making a strong contribution to the realization of the SDGs. The ILO will equally encourage and support governments to adopt good social security legislation, implement social protection systems and floors, and make universal social protection a reality for all. This can happen only, I believe, if we join forces in the pursuit of that change. Let us help you invest in your workers, and I ask you to help us invest in the workers around the world.

Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It remains only for me to thank you again for your attendance at this fourth annual meeting of the Global Business Network for Social Protection Floors.

By being here today, you can shape the Network and take an active part in making the human right to social protection a reality for us all.

Good luck today. Thank you for your presence; and please do count on the strong support of the ILO. Thank you very much.