GENEVA (ILO News) - The search for solutions to the social and labour-market consequences of the process of economic globalization was placed firmly onto the agenda of the International Labour Organization following decisions taken by the ILO's Governing Body, which convened in Geneva from 15-28 March.
The decisions extend the ILO's Working Party on Social Dimensions of the Liberalization of International Trade, which first met in November 1995. The Governing Body also decided to expand the Working Party's deliberations to include an ambitious examination of a broad range of social and employment effects of freer trade and globalization.
The Director-General of the ILO, Michel Hansenne, applauded the policy orientation: "Neither a single-minded insistence on trade sanctions nor an inflexible resistance to any form of link between trade and labour standards offers a realistic prospect of agreement. The process we have embarked upon here offers the best hope of improving understanding of how best to harness and distribute the benefits of freer trade and establish rules of the game for the benefit of all social partners in the global economy."
He said that member States of both the ILO and WTO needed to commit themselves to a parallel development of trade liberalization and social progress in order to fulfil commitments they have made in both Organizations.
The overwhelming consensus for expanding the activities of the Working Party reflects the Governing Body's opinion that the ILO, in view of its mandate, universality and tripartite composition, needs to take a leading role in the international debate on trade and labour standards and seek to have maximum impact in this field.
The conclusions of the Working Party are twofold. The first is development of a long-term strategy which will seek to improve the state of knowledge with a view to strengthening the ILO's capacity and means of action to help member States. This could be achieved through more effective technical cooperation and action focused on fundamental human rights Conventions, particularly those dealing with child labour, forced labour, discrimination and denial of the right to organize and bargain collectively.
The second is a concrete programme of action, to be started immediately, which will include a questionnaire to member States soliciting information on the economic and social results of trade liberalization in the aftermath of the Uruguay Round, country studies and reviews of action undertaken in other international actions, including OECD, on the subject.
The Working Party will coordinate and support developments in work on the elimination of child labour and ratification of fundamental human rights Conventions.
The next meeting of the Working Party is scheduled for November 1996, just prior to the Singapore Ministerial Meeting of the WTO.
Child Labour Convention
The Governing Body also decided to include an item on child labour in the agenda of the 86th session of the International Labour Conference, to be held in Geneva in June 1998, with a view to developing a new international instrument on child labour. Under the standard-setting procedures of ILO a double-discussion procedure will be followed, with the proposed instrument being slated for adoption in 1999.
The proposed new instrument on child labour would target for elimination the most egregious and harmful practices, for instance child bondage, forced labour, sexual slavery and use of children in such activities as pornography. Some aspects of child labour are already dealt with in a number of ILO instruments, notably the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 ( No. 29) and the Minimum Age Convention, 1973 ( No. 138). The Governing Body decided to pursue adoption of a new instrument because of the proliferation of exploitative forms of child labour. Such an instrument would strengthen the ILO in the overall fight against child labour while focusing priorities on the most serious forms of abuse.
Follow-up to the Beijing Women's Conference
The Governing Body also approved proposals to give effect to the Declaration and Platform for Action adopted by the Fourth World Conference on Women, which was held in Beijing in September 1995. Seven of the 12 critical areas of concern identified in the Platform are closely linked to ILO's concerns and mandate. These are women's poverty; inequalities in education and training; women's economic participation; power sharing and decision making; national and international machinery; promotion of women's rights; promotion of the rights of the girl child.
The Governing Body approved a plan of action with programmes focused on three goals: productive employment and poverty eradication; working conditions and social protection; international labour standards and normative action on women workers.
The Governing Body - composed of 28 government members, 14 employer members and 14 worker members - serves as the executive council of the ILO. It meets three times a year and takes decisions on ILO policy. Ten of the government seats are permanently held by major industrialized countries. The remaining seats are filled on a rotating basis, taking account of geographical distribution, for three-year terms. The employers and workers select their own representatives.