Inclusive workforce

India Business Disability Network: ILO calls for inclusive future workplaces

Remarks by Dagmar Walter, Director ILO India, at the launch of the India chapter of ILO’s Business Disability Network (IBDN).

Statement | New Delhi, India | 23 January 2019
Respected members of the Confederation of Indian Industries and Employers’ Federation of India;

Employers and industry partners, workers, trade unionists, academia and media;

Ladies and gentlemen:

A very warm welcome to all of you. Thank you for this opportunity wherein ILO is collaborating with CII and EFI to launch this very important initiative, the India Business Disability Network (IBDN), which is the India chapter of ILO’s Global Business Disability Network (GBDN).

In India, the population living with a disability represents a significant section. The 2011 Census says that they are a 2.21 % of the total population. This is however seen to be an underestimate, perhaps because how disability is defined. The World Health Organization says that the differently-abled population of India is as large as 15 %.

While one can mull on this figure – let me say that the India chapter is a welcome move. It has been set up to facilitate industry to engage, enable and empower persons with disabilities, more so at a time when the world of work is undergoing unprecedented changes and increased polarization.

The ILO Global Business Disability Network is a unique employers-led world-wide network of multinational enterprises (MNEs), national employer organizations (EOs), business networks and disabled people’s organizations (DPOs). The individuals and organizations that form a part of this network– call for the inclusion of persons with disabilities at the workplace.

This coalition presently has 27 global companies, 27 national businesses and disability networks with one regional network, and 8 international non-profit organizations. Employing differently-abled people is not only just, it is also good for businesses. In the 21st century, we must move towards inclusion, respect and dignity at workplaces.

I will cite five benefits of inclusive workplaces:
  1. Access to talent : By focusing on skills rather than stereotypes, you access an untapped pool of talent.
  2. Increased innovation : Employees with diverse experiences have different approaches to problem solving.
  3. Increased engagement and retention : Employees who feel included have higher levels of loyalty and enthusiasm.
  4. Better reputation : Customers value companies that show a real commitment towards inclusion.
  5. Benefits for everyone : Everyone benefits from an inclusive workplace, not just those who face disability.
Without equal employment opportunities for persons with disabilities it means being entrapped in a vicious circle of poverty and social exclusion. People living with disabilities, particularly women, face enormous attitudinal, physical and informational barriers to equal opportunities in the world of work, in particular, discrimination in recruitment, remuneration and career progression while also facing greater risk of insufficient social protection.

The ILO has a longstanding commitment to promoting social justice and achieving decent work for people with disabilities. It has a two-fold approach to disability inclusion:
  • One is to allow for disability-specific programmes or initiatives aimed at overcoming particular disadvantages or barriers.
  • Second: to ensure the inclusion of disabled persons in mainstream services and activities, such as skills training, employment promotion and social protection.
I must stress how imperative it is that persons living with disabilities should themselves be made active participants in the development process, protection schemes and poverty reduction strategies. They should be at the heart of decision-making, and charting their own career-path.

ILO efforts in including people with disabilities is holistic. It includes internal practices as well as partnerships with other UN agencies. You can read that in the ILO Disability Inclusion Strategy and Action Plan and ILO code of practice: Managing disability in the workplace

Our work towards inclusivity at workplaces is built upon international standards that are created and agreed by our member States. Some of the ILO Conventions that are worth mentioning are:
  1. C159 - Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (Disabled Persons) Convention, 1983 (No. 159)
  2. R168 - Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (Disabled Persons) Recommendation, 1983 (No. 168)
  3. C111 - Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111)
  4. United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 
I will urge you to have a look at these conventions that will give you a precise idea of how inclusive workplaces are possible. These are comprehensive normative instruments which will aid you in strengthening your own HR practices and policies and in turn be in alignment with internationally-vetted standards.

India has a growing disability rights movement and a progressive policy framework in the developing world. The ILO especially is thankful towards the government for taking decisive and bold steps in amending the Persons with Disabilities Act of 1995 and expanding its scope of coverage in The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill 2016.

Yet, much needs to be done on implementation and “getting the basics right”. It’s time to seek new thinking, and better coordination of programmes that are aimed at benefitting differently abled persons in the workforce. Their integration is crucial, and even more the stigma and the apathy within our society towards those with special needs must be done away with. We have to ensure that this section of the population has equal rights towards acquiring new skills. There is a dire need to be change agents and do away with the outdated narrative of ability versus disability.

This will pave the way for providing equal opportunities in the world of work. It will surely contribute immensely to India’s inclusive development agenda and to the 2030 agenda of Sustainable Development Goals. It is extremely encouraging to learn that employers around the world are making conscious efforts today to ensure that no one is left behind in the world of work. These efforts must be maintained and fuelled.

Today the setting up of the Indian Business Disability Network is a result of employers in India demonstrating its commitment to this vision.

I congratulate EFI and CII for taking the lead in establishing this network. I am confident that it will expand and it will promote better business and employment opportunities. As ILO celebrates its centenary year, this move by India’s employers is heartening and special.

Thank you!