Social and solidarity economy

Social enterprises play a key role in a decent future of work

Innovative solutions are needed to combat the challenges facing the future of work said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder at the Social Economy National Consultation Conference in Durban, South Africa.

Statement | Durban, South Africa | 28 February 2019
Honourable Ebrahim Patel, Minister of Economic Development,
Honourable Lindiwe Zulu, Minister of Small Business Development,
Dr Geraldine Reymenants, General Representative of the Government of Flanders,
Representatives of employers’ and workers’ organizations,
Representatives of social economy organisations; social entrepreneurs, academia,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am glad to be here with you today on Minister Patel’s invitation who convinced me to pass by the IDC on my way to Durban, where I will have the honour tomorrow of joining President Ramaphosa for the launch of the Future of Work Report, recently published by the ILO’ Global Commission on Future of Work.

The world needs innovative solutions to reverse the deterioration of workers’ rights, improve employment opportunities and working conditions, the organisation of work and production, and the governance of work. In this context there are growing calls for alternative forms of business and new models of growth. It is therefore no surprise that social and solidarity economy enterprises and organizations are emerging as “bottom-up strategic collective initiatives with local roots” which can provide concrete strategies to address challenges emerging in the changing world of work.

Organizations are no longer assessed based only on traditional metrics but increasingly on the basis of their relationship with their workers, their customers and their communities as well as their impact of society at large – transforming them from business enterprises into social enterprises. The youth are also recognizing the importance of the social economy – 86% of millennials think that business success should be measured in terms of more than just financial performance.

It was ten years ago here in Johannesburg that a regional conference on the Social and Solidarity Economy defined it as enterprises and organizations, in particular cooperatives, mutual benefit societies, associations and social enterprises, which have the specific feature of producing goods, services and knowledge while pursuing both economic and social aims and fostering participation and solidarity.

I also wish to recognize the support provided by the Flemish Government in the development of the policy framework. There is a long history of cooperation between the ILO and Flanders in South Africa. In 2016 we celebrated 25 years of collaboration. We thank the Government of Flanders for their continued support for the work of the ILO.

Distinguished Guests,
The growth of the social and solidarity economy around the world, and its focus on positive social impact as well as economic opportunities, is closely aligned with the ILO’s work on the “Future of Work” and the recommendations of the Global Commission’s report on the future of work.

The Global Commission – co-chaired by his Excellency President Cyril Ramaphosa – calls for a human-centred agenda for the future of work that strengthens the social contract by placing people and the work they do at the centre of economic and social policy and business practice. In the deliberations of the Global Commission on the future of work the issue around alternative ownership and governance models came up repeatedly. Their role in providing innovative solutions to challenging changes in the world of work, in the substitution of human work by automation in both developed and developing countries, the growing prevalence of flexible and temporary jobs, lower wages and decreased bargaining power, reduced social protection and weakening of social protection mechanisms, emergence of new underclasses, erosion of labour market institutions, financialization and short termism of the economy at the expense of workers and models of social dialogue being called into question, were discussed.

Such trends and signals also provide us with the opportunity to rethink and revisit the interactions between work, society, citizens, and economic and social actors.

Finding innovative ways to address the broader dimensions of development and progress in living standards need to be considered through “bottom-up strategic collective initiatives with local roots”, which support efforts for transformative change and social innovation. ”At its heart, the social and solidarity economy brings innovative solutions to issues which have gotten stuck, where the government and business may not have been able to forge a way forward. From what I have heard today I am happy to note that this will also be a focus of the social economy policy for South Africa.

From our constituents, we increasingly hear a call for a more inclusive and equitable economy both on the national and global levels. We take these calls seriously. At the ILO we have had a specialized unit on cooperatives since 1920 which continues to this day responding to our constituents demands to provide research, policy support, and capacity strengthening on cooperatives. In the last decade the requests for support have been growing social and solidarity economy including through development cooperation projects. I am happy to note that the findings from two global research initiatives on social and solidarity economy and the future of work will be launched during our centenary this year. The findings show that SSE promotion policies from 20 countries largely target job creation and transition to formality, sustainable entrepreneurship, social welfare, and promotion of local development.

In our work with the ILO constituents and social and solidarity economy partners in Tunisia we are now not only supporting the co-production of a social economy policy but also supporting youth employment generation through their own social and solidarity economy enterprises and organizations.

It is also worth noting that at the ILO our work on cooperatives has been guided by an international labour standard, the ILO Recommendation on the Promotion of Cooperatives, 2002 (No. 193). Minister Patel himself was closely involved in the process leading to the adoption of this recommendation. There are now calls for a UN resolution on the social and solidarity economy. At the ILO where we chair the UN Task Force on the Social and Solidarity Economy, we are also taking note of the requests to hold a more institutional discussion on the topic as linked to our work plan around future of work.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
For us at the ILO standard setting is also important from a statistical point of view. At the 20th International Conference of Labour Statisticians in October 2018 guidelines on statistics of cooperatives were adopted. This is a critical step not only in improving quality of statistics on cooperatives at the national level but also getting more harmonized and comparable data across countries. As cooperatives are the largest group of enterprises in the social and solidarity economy in the majority of countries around the world these statistical guidelines will no doubt help move closer toward establishing statistics on social and solidarity economy as well.

I have no doubt that social and solidarity economy organizations are well positioned to become an essential part of the tool kit for achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in general and for better localizing the SDGs in particular. Building on their value driven and human centred approaches, they can help build a new economy strives for social justice and decent work.

The Report of the Global Commission on the Future of Work calls for incentives to promote investments in decent and sustainable work and it calls for reshaping of business incentive structures towards well-being, environmental sustainability and equality. Such investments will also help advance gender equality and can create millions of jobs and new opportunities for micro-, small and medium enterprises, including enterprises and organizations operating in the social and solidarity economy. The report calls upon all of us to take responsibility and for us to recognize that labour is not a commodity, and that social justice is at the heart of our movement to achieving equality for all.

This was the thinking of the founding fathers of the ILO who, in the 1919 Constitution of the Organization in the wake of a destructive World War I and again in the Philadelphia Declaration written in a devastated world at the end of World War II, committed to fighting a war on poverty, and injustice, that recognized that labour is not a commodity, that our right to association and freedom of expression should be protected and that the war on want, needs to be approached with unrelenting vigour within each nation.

The issues of the Declaration of Philadelphia and our Future of Work report remain very similar: that promoting social justice through decent and sustainable work for all, requires ongoing commitment and action. It requires social dialogue and cohesion. It requires new ways of thinking. It requires connecting our societies, and groups within societies, bringing us together in an economy for all.

Before I conclude, I would like to commend the Government of South Africa, social partners and social and solidarity economy organizations on their active efforts and commitment to promote, enable and activate the power of the South African social and solidarity economy.

I wish all of you good luck and success in crafting a policy that will benefit all South Africans, for both present and future generations.

Thank you.