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ILO and Ford Foundation: Placing decent work at the heart of the development agenda (23 September)

arton4559The opening of the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly, with its focus on the post-2015 development agenda, provided a timely backdrop to the ILO and Ford Foundation event entitled “Employment and Decent work for Inclusive and Sustainable Development,” which highlighted practical examples of how countries are tackling the problem of quality job creation.

At the close of the event, and as part of a concrete commitment to the momentum generated on decent work, the Group of Friends of Decent Work for Sustainable Development was launched by co-chairs Vice President Manuel Vicente of Angola and the Belgium Minister Jean-Pascal Labille.

The list of eminent panelists included President Michelle Bachelet (Chile); President Luis Guillermo Solís (Costa Rica); President John Dramani Mahama (Ghana); President Juan Orlando Hernández (Honduras); Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (Trinidad and Tobago); Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn (Ethiopia); Vice President Manuel Vicente (Angola); Minister of Trade and Development Cooperation Mogens Jensen (Denmark); Minister of Development Cooperation Jean-Pascal Labille (Belgium); Minister for Expatriates’ Welfare & Overseas Employment Khandker Mosharraf Hossain (Bangladesh); the CEO of The Coca-Cola Company Muhtar Kent; General Secretary Sharan Burrow of the ITUC; the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning Amina Mohammed; and President of the MasterCard Foundation Reeta Roy.

Delving directly into the main issue, the moderator, Richard Quest of CNN, asked what governments needed to do to increase quality employment. ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said that “first, we need to see a goal on decent work at the centre of the post-2015 development agenda. This has to be matched with a serious commitment by Member States because there has to be accountability. So – get a goal around jobs, and work together, we really got to work together, to start putting people back to work.”

President Bachelet of Chile said that countries need to “work together to build an environment of confidence and create enabling conditions so the private sector can make better hiring decisions, with the necessary incentives for them to invest.” One of the foundational elements for this to happen, she stressed, was education reform that responds to the needs of the real economy, an important initiative of her administration. “The education issue is not our only problem. Our challenge is also arising from a constantly narrowing working force due to the impact of technology advancement. We need to address these problems together.”

Also underscoring the importance of education, President Solís of Costa Rica stated that “if we do not give the workforce better education, matched to the needs of the changing job market, people will not command better salaries. Education is not an investment you can make overnight. You put forward educational policies that help people learn a second language, develop technical skills in broadband, for example, otherwise people will not be able to meet the competitive standards of the private sector.”

Representing the private sector, Muhtar Kent, The Coca-Cola Company, said that his company is investing billions and creating jobs: “But that’s not enough. There are still many employment problems, such as youth unemployment. So we are getting out of our company and creating different projects, to create jobs inside different communities.” Mr. Kent gave the example of Coca-Cola’s 5by20 Program which aims to empower five million women entrepreneurs across the company’s value chain by 2020.

In offering an example of what businesses can do in Africa to generate economic growth, President Mahama of Ghana recommended that “companies who work in Africa should shift some of their processes so that our region will benefit from the additional value of their products, rather than concentrating only on the simple stages of the production processes. Both the company and the African people would benefit from this approach which would move economic growth forward. We need to invest back in the region more of the profits that we have helped generate.”

As the discussion shifted to the creation of quality of jobs, President Hernández of Honduras said that it was not enough to work on small approaches in local communities; in addition, “you need to provide incentives to the private sector to create jobs.” He said a key to this was attracting more investment into the country through the creation of employment and economic development zones, referred to as ZEDE. “The ZEDE has special legal, economic, administrative and political jurisdictions and can improve competitiveness and well-being.”

A number of additional actions discussed by the assembled Presidents were the promotion of entrepreneurship for youth, ensuring educational systems contribute to a highly skilled workforce, incentives to attract foreign investment, improving terms of trade, and increasing efforts to formalize their economies.

The conversation was further complemented by the second high-level panel, moderated by The Economist’s Globalization Editor Matthew Bishop, which focused on social protection, climate change and its impact on economic growth.

Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar of Trinidad and Tobago indicated that her country experienced some tension between benefits and development. “We are undertaking strenuous efforts to reduce unemployment through economic development so that people can rise out of persistent poverty. We have focused on education and training for which we have allocated a large part of our budget,” the Prime Minster indicated.

When asked how Ethiopia was prioritizing the issue of decent work along with environmental issues, President Desalegn noted, “Our economy is growing fast, however, we need to modernize agriculture technologies and practices to keep up and create more jobs. We are looking at technologies that would pollute less: it is a balanced process.”

Minister Jensen of Denmark and others contended that renewable energy, economic growth and sustainable jobs can coexist. Moreover, proper education structures can allow for the coexistence of emerging technologies and the pursuit of full employment. There was a high level of agreement that the green and technological revolutions are not add-ons to development and that tradeoffs can be avoided. For example, the partnership between Master Card Foundation and TechnoServe has successfully assisted the rural youth in East Africa to transition to economic independence.

The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Amina Mohammed, stated, “While it is agreed that decent work is a main goal, I would also add livelihood for Africa. We need to think about what we can implement and how it is reflected, and improving the situation at the country level.”

Speakers from the third panel strongly emphasized a multi-stakeholder approach, social dialogue, and the need for data and evidence to ensure that the policies implemented to achieve the new development goals, along with decent work, are measureable and effective.

“We are preparing for the many challenges related to the future demand of work through specific, appropriate responses, such as the serious exploitation of migrant workers,” Minister Hossain of Bangladesh told participants. “For example, migrants lose a great deal of money in the process of recruitment and travel. They need to work three years just to cover this loss. In response, we have developed training programs to help prevent this type of exploitation with an eye to ensuring we are also creating good job opportunities for people.”

Providing a worker’s perspective, Sharan Burrow of the ITUC said, “Workers are on the front line of fear because of the extreme levels of unemployment after the economic crises. In order to generate jobs and growth we need to shift the agenda. We need to look at models of cooperation between employers and workers: this is social dialogue. We need to build the right path now in order to grow future jobs, such as green jobs.”

Focusing on youth, Reeta Roy, MasterCard Foundation, stressed, “We need to understand where the growth areas are and where young people will have a chance to be integrated into the labour force. So we need to build skills but we also need to support the youth and guide them towards the right decisions.”

Vice President Vicente indicated that Angola supports the inclusion of a transformative goal on decent work for all and inclusive growth, “which must be accompanied by meaningful and action-oriented targets.” Minister Labille of Beligum explained that his country’s aim is “to be the advocates of decent work and to build partnerships among like-minded countries from North and South.”

This high-level discussion is part of a wider multi-stakeholder process, building on the lessons learned in pursuing the Millennium Development Goals, to inform the negotiations for a new, universal development vision beyond 2015.

Further information on this event is available online.

Photo Credit: Simon Luethi

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