Global Forum for a Human-centred Recovery

Opening remarks by ILO Director-General

Guy Ryder opened the Global Forum for a Human-centred Recovery with a plea for the international community to take action to address the ‘dangerous inequalities’ exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic within and among countries.

Declaración | 22 de febrero de 2022
© M. Crozet / ILO
Thank you very much. And particular thanks to all of the distinguished leaders who have launched our Forum so compellingly over the last hour.

I think that I can best use my opportunity now just to underline what I detect as four powerful messages that the leaders have conveyed to us - messages that give a very valuable direction to the work of our forum, and which I believe we must accept as challenges to this forum because they demand responses from us.

And those responses, to be credible need to be framed through concrete action.

Our Forum is designed precisely for that purpose.

So here are the four messages that I heard from our leaders.

The first, and it's a familiar one, is that the economic and social crisis which has come from COVID-19 has hit the weakest hardest.

We heard the UN Secretary-General remind us that inequality and poverty have grown worse in the course of the pandemic, and this despite the unprecedented measures taken by governments to protect working people and to support enterprises. But what is perhaps even more worrying is that the current trajectory of recovery is prolonging and accentuating this divergence.

President Widodo pointed to widely differing rates of recovery between countries and between regions due to divergent vaccination rates and levels of fiscal stimulus, and President Fernandez very strikingly spoke of this as a dynamic which is generating scenarios of enormous social injustice.

The second message, and it flows naturally from the first, is that we simply must act to check and to reverse these dynamics, which otherwise will make our world more unfair. And ultimately more dangerous.

Chancellor Scholz spoke of the imperative of progress towards a more equitable world, progress that would leave no one behind and which, as President Widodo remarked, would have us recover together and stronger.

From this message, I think we can conclude that the question before this forum is not what we must do or what we want to achieve. It is how we do it.

And this just takes me to the third message, which I can sum up by citing the words of Chancellor Scholz who simply said that global challenges call for global solutions.

Are we capable of generating those global solutions? The president of the Swiss Confederation, President Cassis, addressed this point head on. He said that we need to create and to promote further transversal links across the multilateral system, and pointed to the ultimate futility of dealing with our respective mandates in different organizations - be they work, health, environment, education, trade, digitalization - treating those in mutual isolation.

It just won't work. What we need instead is the networked, effective and inclusive multilateralism of which the UN Secretary-General has spoken. And this again goes to the heart of why we have come to this forum.

The next message is that there are a certain number of policy areas that require collective attention as a matter of the utmost urgency. I'm just going to mention three of those.

Firstly - and because, obviously, everything we are talking about comes from a health emergency - issues of health. President Sall spoke compellingly of the imperative of vaccine equity and the need for large scale vaccine production in his continent of Africa. And President Fernandez followed this up by an appeal for the global initiative to ensure universal access to vaccinations. Health is at the heart of the things we are talking about.

Secondly, finance. If we are talking about the “how” of our discussions in this forum, then we are led inevitably to address the role of finance. The Secretary-General put it starkly when he described low income countries as victims of a financial system that puts profit before people. President Fernandez said that the financial architecture has become disconnected from the real economy and from the cause of social justice. And President Sall underlined the need to rechannel special drawing rights to the countries that need them, and for the needs which are so evident.

We can all agree once more on the need for large scale investments in climate change action, social protection, in infrastructure, in health, in education, in care. We need the same consensus about how we are going to finance that investment.

And the third policy area I want to mention is social protection. President Widodo reminded us that 53% of the global population has no social protection at all. Chancellor Scholz reminded us of the absolutely essential role of a welfare state.

Finally, I want to say- and some of you will perhaps accuse me of being ILO centric in what I'm about to say! - that work is pivotal to all of these challenges. Chancellor Scholz remarked that a fair world of work with good working conditions across the globe is a central challenge of our times.

And the experience of the pandemic has reminded us of the essential contribution of workers who are maybe under-rewarded in the world of work.

By the same logic, President Sall recalled the critical importance of international labour standards. We have to have these normative guidelines for the challenges ahead.

And naturally, our social partners, our employer and worker representatives - but not only them - also underlined the role of social dialogue in building practical, fair and effective recovery strategies.

If you put all of this together, what do we have?

Well, clearly, I would argue, a very powerful and encouraging convergence on a shared diagnostic of the crisis that we face.

And an equally compelling case for joined-up multilateral action to move us forward from it.

This is very encouraging, but I don't find it entirely surprising. After all, we already have a whole series of declarations and statements that articulate this shared vision. In the ILO, of course, we have the Centenary Declaration for the future of work and the Global call to action, which many have referred to and that provides the mandate for this very forum.

But over and above that, we have the all-encompassing UN 2030 Agenda. We have the Global Accelerator for jobs and social protection that the Secretary-General launched with the ILO in September, and now we have as well the Secretary-General's report Our Common Agenda, with its powerful proposals inter alia for a renewed social contract.

So, as we get our forum started, could I venture to suggest that we would not be adding much value by trying to add to this list of declarations. Rather, I would urge all of us to focus on closing the gap. Because it really is a gap between these visionary statements of ambition, and our collective performance in delivering on them. The Secretary-General has told us that this is a moment of breakthrough or breakdown.

By building new and concrete lines of joint action and cooperation in each of the areas the forum will address - inclusive growth and decent jobs, universal social protection, protecting workers and sustaining enterprises, and just transition to carbon neutrality - we can, I believe, contribute importantly to a breakthrough scenario with tangible consequences, as President Cassis urged us to generate.

So let me conclude by thanking sincerely all of those who are participating in our forum. Heads of state and of government, leaders of international organizations and multilateral banks, the representatives of workers and employers.

Your presence and the commitments that you bring to this forum is what will make the difference.

Thank you, Chair.