Day 8: 108th International Labour Conference - Thematic Forum

Well-functioning multilateral system key to an equitable future of work

Speakers at a thematic forum examined what needs to be done at international and regional level to reduce inequality and how the multilateral system can work more coherently to achieve this. The debate was held at the International Labour Organization’s Centenary Conference.

News | 18 June 2019
Photo album and video recording of the forum
GENEVA (ILO News) – Panelists at a forum held during the Centenary International Labour Conference discussed how recent waves of globalization in international trade and finance have done much to increase global inequality, widening the gap between the world’s richest and poorest. They looked at the disparities in income and wealth distribution, which are growing despite the fact that extreme poverty has been reduced. Although most economies are growing, large portions of the world’s workforce have experienced real wage stagnation. And while women’s economic contributions are growing, gender inequalities persist.

Roberto Carvalho de Azevêdo, Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), said that trying to apply “old fixes” at a time of major structural changes across the globe “is not going to work.” The necessary remedies, he added, are largely, “in domestic politics, it’s what governments can do. Of course, international organizations have a big role, particularly in identifying the problems, proposing solutions, and instigating the discussion at the domestic level so we can have movement and progress in the right direction.”

Guy Ryder, ILO Director General, stressed the need to move away from the view that increasing inequality “is the price we have to pay to keep the global economy growing.”

“It’s time to revisit these old models,” he said. “That goes to the heart of what the world of work is doing at this conference, on the occasion of our Centenary. We would like to start to construct the answers to what it takes to have a more equitable future of work. Whilst the ILO has a big part of that job to do…this is not a job for us alone.”

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, said there is a “need to change the way we do business, because the model is broken.” She added: “We have to learn to work for a global economy that is in the interest of growth, but growth that is shared, that is inclusive, and that is in the interests of people and of sustainable business.”

Anousheh Karvar, the French Government representative on the ILO’s Governing Body and the Labour and Employment Task Officer to the G7 and G20 groupings
, said: “The G7 countries, the G7 labour ministers, call for a better integration of international labour standards in three areas in which the Philadelphia Declaration has been our inspiration, and these are international finance, trade and the future of work.”

Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, Chief Executive Officer of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) Agency, in the Republic of Niger, said that African countries have some of the fastest growing yet most unequal economies in the world. “We quickly realized that development is not equal to strong economic growth, because strong economic growth does not automatically lead to inclusive growth. The best and simplest definition that can be given of inclusive growth, is the creation of decent jobs.”

Mahmoud Mohieldin, World Bank Group Senior Vice President for the 2030 Development Agenda United Nations Relations, and Partnerships, said there is a need for “investment in human capital,” including “investment in universal health, universal education, and investment in early childhood, with sufficient attention given to the gender dimension.” There is also a need for investment in infrastructure, “including in digital infrastructure, which requires huge spending and decent partnerships between the public and the private sectors,” and investments related to “resilience, which covers areas to do with social spending and social protection.”

Gabriela Ramos, OECD Chief of Staff and Sherpa to the G20, said the levels of inequalities seen now are unsustainable. “Forty per cent of wealth [is concentrated] in the top 10 per cent [of the population], and three per cent of wealth in the bottom 40 per cent; and this is in the most advanced nations. [It takes] five generations for somebody at the bottom of the income distribution to reach middle income – and this means no social mobility. Middle classes are stagnant, because wages have been flat for the last two decades, and the cost of living, housing and education” are on the rise, and wages have not increased, she said.

Peter Robinson, President and CEO of the United States Council for International Business, said extreme inequality is “socially destabilizing, gives rise to greater polarization, undermines people’s attachment to our institutions….It’s clear that businesses do well in stable and prosperous societies where there is less inequality.” He said lack of gender diversity and equality still exists in the workplace and needs to be addressed. Achieving gender diversity in the workplace is often hindered by persisting “cultural and societal barriers, and stigmas, practices and attitudes that disproportionately burden women with care of children and the elderly,” he said.

The forum, Multilateralism for an equitable future of work, was held at the annual International Labour Conference, which this year marks the 100th anniversary of the International Labour Organization. The two-week Conference, which concludes on June 21, has a strong focus on future of work challenges.