It is a singular and potentially a happy coincidence that the ILO should be celebrating its 75th Anniversary on the eve of the World Summit for Social Development.
The Summit could well be a truly historic event. The mere fact that it will be the first time in history that the Heads of State of nations throughout the world will be meeting to discuss social issues already by itself makes it an event of some significance. But it needs to be more, much more, than an occasion of great pomp and circumstance. The issues which the Summit is called upon to tackle - poverty, unemployment and social exclusion - are among the most critical issues of our time. In spite of the very considerable material gains that have been registered during the past 50 years; in spite of the tremendous technological progress that has been achieved; in spite of a much more favourable international political climate resulting from the end of the cold war: in spite of all these things, poverty continues to grow and inequalities continue to widen. Over a billion people are living in poverty. Some 30 per cent of the world's labour force is not productively employed. Many societies are being increasingly fragmented and polarized, and are being torn apart by racial, ethnic and religious conflict and intolerance - to the extent of complete disintegration in some societies and acute social tensions and instability in others. The benefits of material and technological progress, and of the peace dividend resulting from the end of the cold war, are not being equitably shared. They are bypassing large and growing numbers of the world's population. These social issues need to be tackled with a sense of urgency and determination by policy-makers at the highest level; they constitute the greatest threat to peace, stability and prosperity in today's world.
That is the historic challenge of the Social Summit. If it is to leave its mark on history it will have to be more than a ritual gathering of Heads of State and Government. It will have to result in a perceptible improvement in the social situation in countries throughout the world - in the short and medium term, not in some indefinite future.
The ILO, for its part, has from the outset had high ambitions and expectations for the Summit. It expects the Declaration and the Programme of Action that will emerge from the Summit to be a landmark in social policy. The Summit should set the objectives and provide a framework for action at the national and international levels to guide social policy in the post cold-war world. It should be based on a recognition by the nations of the world that all have a common interest in each other's social progress and social stability. It should define the roles and responsibilities of each of the actors in national societies and in the world community in a global attack on poverty, unemployment and social exclusion. It should acknowledge that these are today truly global problems - not only in the sense that they are shared by all countries of the world, but also in the sense that in a world characterized by growing interdependence they require global action. National action, essential though it is, will no longer suffice if it is not buttressed by effective international mechanisms to ensure that the benefits of a global economy are equitably distributed among all the world's citizens.
That is the sense in which the ILO has approached the Summit. The reason why it has taken, and continues to take it so seriously and to have quite ambitious objectives for it, should be reasonably self-evident. The problems of poverty, unemployment and social exclusion with which the Summit is seized are all, to a very large extent, labour problems. They arise in the labour market and at the workplace, and it is there that the main solutions to these problems must be found. That is why, from the very outset, the ILO's Governing Body has insisted that the ILO should play a major role in the preparations for the Summit and it has indeed done so.
Having thus declared the ILO's interest in, commitment to, and ambitions for the Social Summit, how do we judge the progress made so far in preparations for the Summit? And what role does the ILO expect to play in its follow-up?
Although the Declaration and Programme of Action that are to be adopted by the Summit are still under negotiation in New York, we are greatly encouraged by the fact that on a number of key issues the voice of the ILO is being heard. We are particularly pleased that the present draft of the Declaration contains a collective commitment by all the nations of the world to the goal of full, productive and freely chosen employment, which in our view is at the core of the core issues placed before the Summit. We are also pleased to see in the draft documents a recognition of the specific policy measures advocated by the ILO at both the international and the national level. We welcome the emphasis placed on appropriate macro-economic policies; on policies which favour growth of job-creating enterprises; on education and training policies; on active labour market policies; and on measures to improve the employment prospects living standards and integration into society of particularly disadvantaged and vulnerable groups. We are particularly pleased by the recognition given to the special contribution made by women to the general welfare - through their role in the family and in production - and to the elimination of all forms of discrimination and inequality from which women still suffer in all countries.
Above all, we are pleased to see the emphasis on human rights, and particularly the basic rights of workers set out in ILO standards - freedom of association and collective bargaining; freedom from forced labour and child labour; equality of opportunity and treatment in employment and occupation. We welcome the references in the draft texts to social protection and social security, adequate occupational safety and health protection and the recognition given to ILO standards on these and many other matters and to the need for a social dialogue among the main actors of civil society to achieve all these goals.
Thus, to a very large extent, the ILO's voice appears to have been heard in the preparatory process so far. But the discussions so far have failed to address adequately the question of follow-up mechanisms. There is no point in adopting fine-sounding commitments if there is no means of ensuring, monitoring and guiding follow-up action.
On this, quite vital, point there are few ideas on the table. The only point on which everyone is agreed is that no new institutions or machinery need to be created, but that existing institutions and machinery need to be made to work better to give effect to the Summit's conclusions. And this brings me to the central theme of this seminar. What is the role of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and of the United Nations Committee established to monitor its application? What is the role of the ILO? And how could the ILO relate to other parts of the machinery of the United Nations system in the follow-up to the Summit?
Let me first make one thing abundantly clear. The ILO stands second to none in the promotion and defence of human rights. The basic values of freedom and dignity, economic security and equality of opportunity for working men and women have always been, and remain, at the very heart of the ILO's action. Many of its Conventions set out in clear, unequivocal terms what the rights of workers are; its machinery for supervising the application of those Conventions, and for the examination of complaints of violations of those Conventions are widely recognized to be effective, impartial and efficient. Our record speaks for itself.
Let me also make it clear that the ILO fully recognizes that the labour rights that it proclaims within its field of competence, and the machinery that it has established for their enforcement, need to be placed in the broader context of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights for society as a whole. That is why the ILO has welcomed the adoption of the United Nations Covenants, and why it has collaborated closely with the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights since its establishment in 1985, particularly by bringing to its attention information on the results of ILO supervisory procedures in so far as they bear on matters covered by the Covenant.
Moreover, one can only welcome the fact that - as I have already mentioned - a fairly significant place is given to human rights in the latest versions of the draft Declaration and Programme of Action. The current draft of the Declaration, for instance, would have the Heads of State and Government in Copenhagen create a framework for action that "promotes and protects universally recognized human rights, including the right to development". It also would commit them to "promote and ensure respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law"; and it contains references to protection of the rights of refugees, migrants and indigenous people. These and other human rights commitments are further elaborated in the draft Programme of Action, the present draft of which also calls for the current reporting mechanisms for the human rights Covenants to be fully respected. It is indeed important that at the Social Summit Heads of State should be invited to reaffirm their commitment to these values and principles.
But the Heads of State and government will be coming to Copenhagen not simply in order to be reminded of their obligation to respect human rights. They are coming to Copenhagen to seek collective solutions to common problems of poverty, unemployment and social exclusion. The Summit can be expected to commit the nations of the world to respect certain principles, to pursue certain courses of action in their domestic policies and - perhaps most important of all - to cooperate with each other in controlling and regulating a more open and interdependent world economy for the benefit of all rather than a privileged few.
We should not get bogged down in a semantic debate, as to whether or not the core issues on the Summit's agenda are human rights or developmental concerns. The 1986 United Nations Declaration on the Right to Development observes that the right to development is itself an "inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized". Seen in this light, it is not only all civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights which are indivisible and of equal importance. Human rights and development are also indivisible. The key issues on the Summit's agenda have indeed been addressed in UN human rights standards, and some of them have been addressed in greater detail in ILO standards.
But in practical terms, the issue is not whether these are human rights. It is rather what kinds of action will achieve their most effective realization. Monitoring the performance of states, under the existing human rights standards already ratified by them, is only one part of the task ahead. The persistence of the social ills of widespread poverty, unemployment and social exclusion throughout the world is not due exclusively or even predominantly to universal negligence or wilful violation of human rights, whether in their civil, political, economic, social or cultural dimensions. It is due to the fact that there is no evident solution to these problems. They are deeply rooted in social, economic and political structures and in a complex interaction of social, economic and political phenomena. The whole problématique of social development has indeed become even more complex since the end of the cold war. In many parts of the world there is a breakdown of the machinery of government and of the operation of national economies, resulting in ethnic conflict and conditions of growing exclusion and deprivation. At the same time, technological change, the globalization of the world economy and heightened competition among enterprises and nations present immense challenges of adjustment for individuals and entire societies. Nation States - even the most powerful among them - are no longer able to control all the economic forces which have a decisive impact on social progress and stability. The present era is a time of great opportunity, but also one of great upheaval.
It is in this light that we must consider how the machinery of the world community can be made to function effectively in order that the texts agreed upon in Copenhagen result in real and sustained world-wide social progress. We must determine the potential role and the comparative advantages of each institution in relation to the themes of the Summit. Certainly, there must be a role for the human rights supervisory organs including the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the other United Nations treaty bodies, and the supervisory bodies of the ILO. The roles of the United Nations and the UN supervisory bodies have been, and should be, complementary. One essential task of the human rights supervisory organs of the United Nations system is to develop benchmarks and indicators to assess and monitor progress in the realization of those human rights within their particular mandates. The Summit should certainly recognize this role, and the follow-up to the Summit will undoubtedly call for increased vigilance so as to ensure that universally recognized rights are not sacrificed on the altar of economic growth through blind market forces, and that economic growth effectively results in a broadening respect for economic and social rights.
But combatting poverty, unemployment and social exclusion in today's world is, with all due respect, too complex a matter to be left to the human rights supervisory bodies of the United Nations system. It requires a much broader and more integrated approach to policy-making, technical cooperation and development assistance, involving different ministries of government and the main actors of civil society at the national level, and the institutions of the United Nations system responsible for economic and social questions at the international level.
The ILO's tripartite membership considers that, within the United Nations system, our Organization should have a central role to play in the follow-up to the Summit because it has three comparative advantages which should be fully exploited in the follow-up to the Summit.
- Firstly, its mandate cuts across all three of the core issues of the Summit. While it has an uncontested mandate on one of the three core issues, namely employment, its rich experience and expertise on matters of social protection, labour legislation, working conditions and industrial relations are entirely relevant to the reduction of poverty and social integration.
- Secondly, its normative functions give it a unique moral standing in the international community, and a unique authority as a point of reference on all matters concerning social policy.
- Thirdly, its tripartite structure, enables it to associate represent-atives of the main productive forces of civil society - employers and workers - in the framing of social policy.
These three distinctive features enable the ILO within its field of competence to blend a moral commitment to certain basic principles and values with practical action and a search for practical solutions to the main social problems of the day. And the participation of employers and workers in our work ensure that the ILO is in constant touch with the realities of the labour market and the workplace.
But, if for these reasons, the ILO lays claim to a central role in the follow-up to the Social Summit, it by no means claims that it can do it all by itself. It is by no means the only Organization in the United Nations system that has a contribution to make to the eradication of poverty and social integration. Even in respect of employment, in which the ILO does expect to be entrusted with a leadership role in the follow-up to the Summit, it will require the cooperation of other institutions - and particularly with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Those institutions can be expected to be key actors in today's increasingly open, increasingly globalized world economy, and thus to have a major influence over economic and financial policies which will have a decisive impact on employment and social progress throughout the world. Just as at the national level there needs to be an integrated approach to policy-making, involving ministries of finance and economic affairs as well as ministries of labour and social affairs, so too, at the international level, the ILO needs to, and has already begun to, intensify its dialogue with the Bretton Woods institutions.
To sum up, the ILO has high ambitions and expectations of the Social Summit, and many of these ambitions and expectations seem to be about to be realized. The key unresolved question is how to maintain the momentum after the Summit. Innovative solutions must be found to achieve enhanced cooperation among the Organizations of the United Nations system if that system is to retain its credibility as an instrument for peace, stability, prosperity and social justice in a turbulent, and increasingly interdependent world community. The ILO stands ready to play its full part in that effort.
© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-bibliothek