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ECOSOC HOLDS PANEL ON USING HUMAN RIGHTS INSTRUMENTS AND ILO STANDARDS AND RECOMMENDATIONS TO ACHIEVE DECENT WORK FOR ALL

ECOSOC HOLDS PANEL ON USING HUMAN RIGHTS INSTRUMENTS AND ILO STANDARDS AND RECOMMENDATIONS TO ACHIEVE DECENT WORK FOR ALL
8 July 2013

The Economic and Social Council this morning held a panel discussion on using human rights instruments and International Labour Organization standards and recommendations to achieve decent work for all.

Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman, Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, said that one year after the 2012 Ministerial Declaration, which called for a people-centred framework placing employment and decent work at the centre of growth strategies, challenges remained pressing.  Conditions had improved for workers in some parts of the world, but flagrant violations of international rights prevailed in others and gender discrimination remained widespread.

Sarah Cook, Director, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development and Moderator, said that the right to work was important in terms of realizing all economic and social rights but also political and civil rights.  The overarching challenge for consideration today was how to narrow the gap in understanding.  Today’s panel had been asked to focus in particular on how the human rights framework and instruments, including the International Labour Organization standards, could serve to incorporate vulnerable or excluded populations in decent work.

Guy Ryder, Director-General, International Labour Organization, said that in a situation of a severe economic crisis with very high unemployment, exit from the crisis could not come from any other way than a rights-based exit strategy.  The question of international policy coherence across different international organizations was important, given the number of stakeholders involved.  The main issue at the moment was to find a way to reach out to all those most in need, but the rural economy was also a priority.

Roberto Suarez Santos, Deputy Secretary General, International Organization of Employers, said that international labour standards had become highly important for companies acting both globally and locally.  One of the main remaining challenges was due to the limitations or weakness of institutions in many countries and to the presence of a huge informal economy, which made it challenging for businesses to respect the fundamental principles of employment.  In addition, the financial and economic crisis had had many negative consequences in many countries.
 
Niklas Bruun, Member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), said that the CEDAW Committee tried to deal with both the formal and informal sector and tried to stress an integrative approach.  When discussing working life, one problem was that women had not traditionally strongly participated in trade unions.  Country-specific solutions had to be found in order to make it possible for women to have an active role.  They should improve in giving clearer policy indications on how the situation could be improved.

Geeta Rao Gupta, Deputy Executive Director, United Nations Children’s Fund, said that in order to truly provide decent work for all workers, they must provide quality child care services because that was a very important component of decent work. Moving forward, they would have to strengthen the social protection floor and systems available for working parents, especially mothers, and make sure that the relevant conventions were fulfilled.
Wellington Chibebe, Deputy General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation, said that work had to be decent and based on human rights, including women’s rights, the right to organize and the right to freedom of expression.  Genuine dialogue was critical for an effective working relationship in any given situation, and that was especially true with regard to employment issues.  When making policies about job creation, Governments should not be thinking about jobs but should always act with due consideration to the lives of the persons involved.      

Craig Mokhiber, Chief of the Development and Economic and Social Issues Branch, United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the challenge was not just about work but about decent work, so the emphasis was very much on the quality of employment and on applying the rule of law in the economic and business spheres.  Businesses had a responsibility to respect human rights, which required effective regulation, but they were also responsible for providing remedies for any harm caused by them.

Participating in the interactive discussion were Ethiopia, Sudan, Colombia, European Union, Nigeria, Norway, Venezuela, Germany, Greece and Nepal. 

At the beginning of the meeting, Nestor Osorio, President of the Economic and Social Council, updating delegations on the Ministerial Declaration, said that further consultations had taken place over the weekend and that pending matters were expected to be resolved within the day.  

The Economic and Social Council will resume its work this afternoon at 3 p.m., when it is scheduled to hold a general debate on the role of the United Nations system in implementing the Ministerial Declaration adopted by the Council at its high-level segment of 2012.

Statement by the President of ECOSOC on the Ministerial Declaration

NESTOR OSORIO, President of the Economic and Social Council, updating delegations on the Ministerial Declaration, said that further consultations had taken place over the weekend and that pending matters were expected to be resolved within the day.  

Documentation

The Council has before it the report of the Secretary-General on the role of the United Nations system in promoting productive capacity, employment and decent work to eradicate poverty in the context of inclusive, sustainable and equitable economic growth at all levels for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (E/2013/56), which highlights inter-agency collaborations that promote productive capacity, employment and decent work; reflections on the Millennium Development Goals and the post-2015 agenda; and considerations for enhanced partnerships and targeted interventions.

Panel Discussion on Using Human Rights Instruments and ILO Standards and Recommendations to Achieve Decent Work for All

DAFFA-ALLA ELHAG ALI OSMAN, Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, said that one year after the 2012 Ministerial Declaration, which called for a people-centred framework placing employment and decent work at the centre of growth strategies, challenges remained pressing.  Conditions had improved for workers in some parts of the world, but flagrant violations of international rights prevailed in others and gender discrimination remained widespread.  In order to promote equal rights between workers, Member States should uphold their international obligations to increase the quality of growth.  The private sector and civil society also had their role to play in creating decent employment.  They should foster a social dialogue to allow those affected in the labour market to have a voice in relevant decision-making.   

SARAH COOK, Director, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development and Moderator, said that the protection of universal human rights was among the foundational principles and values of the United Nations system.  In the field of development, there was concern about the attainment of equitable and just outcomes for all through economic and social progress.  In practice, they still saw a significant gap, between on the one hand what might be called the rhetoric of the principles of rights and rights based approaches, and how they really used the human rights instruments in practice.  Conversely, there was the question that many operations of economic development of growth strategies were pursued in ways that did not necessarily respect the rights of individuals.  How could they develop in ways which did not violate the rights of individuals, communities and particular groups within those contexts?  They generally lacked sufficient understanding of the details of these instruments and how they could be used.  Many critical actors may not be held accountable as duty bearers for guaranteeing or protecting rights, or accountable for violations of human rights and that had particularly occurred where there was pressure in many countries to reduce the role of the state and the growing engagement of private actors.  At the heart of any discussion of such tensions was the right to work and this right to work could be used as a critical lens through which to explore these tensions.  The right to work was important in terms of realizing all economic and social rights but also political and civil rights.

For many countries and particularly lower income developing countries, realizing employment related rights was also about creating jobs through appropriate patterns of economic development, which in turn implicated other actors including for example international financial institutions.  This clearly was not just an issue for developing countries.  They saw increasingly the problem of retrogression within austerity hit economies in the north.  The overarching challenge for consideration today was how to narrow the gap in understanding.  How could they effectively use existing mechanisms, or possibly create more effective mechanisms for leveraging maximum potential of rights approaches and in varied development contexts and thus support the achievement of shared goals such as employment and decent work for all?  Today’s panel had been asked to focus in particular on how human rights framework and instrument, including the International Labour Organization standards, could serve to incorporate vulnerable or excluded populations in decent work. 

GUY RYDER, Director-General, International Labour Organization, said that decent work was work undertaken in full respect of fundamental rights, such as the right to work and the right to social protection.  The decent work agenda, therefore, was a rights-based agenda.  As the international system was trying to develop the successor to the Millennium Development Goals agenda, it transpired that the post-2015 agenda should also be rights-based.  In a situation of a severe economic crisis with very high unemployment, exit from the crisis could not come from any other way than a rights-based exit strategy.  International labour standards were the product of tripartite negotiations involving Governments, employers and workers, and were the fundamental rights of principles concerning the right to work.  A package of International Labour Organization Conventions clearly defined fundamental rights.  The question of international policy coherence across different international organizations was important, given the number of stakeholders involved.  The main issue at the moment was to find a way to reach out to all those most in need, but the rural economy was also a priority.

ROBERTO SUAREZ SANTOS, Deputy Secretary-General, International Organization of Employers, said that international labour standards had become highly important for companies acting both globally and locally.  Respect of human rights and respect of the fundamental principles of work were growing in importance and had an impact on companies.  One of the main remaining challenges was due to the limitations or weakness of institutions in many countries and to the presence of a huge informal economy, which made it challenging for businesses to respect the fundamental principles of employment.  In addition, the financial and economic crisis had had many negative consequences in many countries.  All those elements were intensifying the need for better use of international global standards, and the International Organization of Employers saw that as an issue which should be tackled. International conventions were also important because they provided a global reference.  Mr. Suarez Santos highlighted the need to optimize efforts made by the three parties to the International Labour Organization in that regard.

SARAH COOK, Director, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development and Moderator, turning to Professor Bruun, asked how other conventions worked in practice.  The CEDAW Convention was very important, dealing with issues about discrimination against women, including in the area of employment.  Despite all the progress of women entering the labour force, they were still not achieving gains, especially in terms of equal pay.  How could they make such a mechanism work more effectively, in this case gender equity, in the area of employment?

NIKLAS BRUUN, Member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), said that he appreciated the organization of this important debate.  The CEDAW Convention was a comprehensive instrument that had been ratified by no less than 187 States.  One of its strengths was that it did not only deal with working life, but also with issues such as education and health, which were crucial when trying to enhance decent work.  It was also policy-oriented.  The CEDAW Committee discussed not only norm compliance, but also active measures to improve the situation.  It tried to deal with both the formal and informal sector, as in many countries women worked to a large extent outside the formal economy.  Work was also closely linked to the International Labour Organization.  What the Committee had tried to stress was an integrative approach.  When discussing working life, one problem was that women had not traditionally strongly participated in trade unions.  This was one problem where country-specific solutions had to be found in order to make it possible for women to have an active role.  What was sometimes experienced was that knowledge on the ground and recommendations of the CEDAW Committee were not reflected when development programmes and aid were given to different receiving countries.  They should ameliorate giving clearer policy indications on how the situation could be improved.

SARAH COOK, Director, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development and Moderator, turning to Ms. Geeta Rao Gupta, said it would be interesting to hear a little bit about how the International Labour Organization and other instruments such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child helped promote this agenda and overcome obstacles.

GEETA RAO GUPTA, Deputy Executive Director, United Nations Children’s Fund, said that the United Nations Children’s Fund had been working very closely with the International Labour Organization.  In order to truly provide decent work for all workers, they must provide quality child care services, because that was a very important component of decent work.  Providing an adequate level of income and safe and good conditions for work, inter alia, were key components of decent work but so was not having to make a trade off between gaining income and taking care of children.  If a parent had to be in a job that in some way compromised the care of their children, then they could not define that as decent work.  Women bore the primary burden of caring for children and as a result their opportunities in the labour market were limited.  There were implications for women’s work, children and education, including early childhood development.  If that was compromised, that undermined a child’s ability to fulfil his or her potential.  The United Nations Children’s Fund and the International Labour Organization were working at the policy level and programmatic level.  Moving forward, they would have to strengthen the social protection floor and systems available for working parents, especially mothers, and make sure that the relevant conventions were fulfilled.  There was a role for all agencies within the United Nations system to work together to bring about better coherence in achieving these goals, as well as for the private sector and civil society. 

WELLINGTON CHIBEBE, Deputy General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation, said that from a trade union perspective, employment rights were fundamentally human rights and as such they were also respected by the tripartite structure of the International Labour Organization.  The decent work issue started being openly discussed in 1999, through the promotion of critical issues such as employment, rights, and social protection.  Concerning employment, work had to be decent and based on human rights, including women’s rights, the right to organize and the right to freedom of expression.  Genuine dialogue was critical for an effective working relationship in any given situation, and that was especially true with regard to employment issues.  It was encouraging that businesses had agreed to adopt self-regulation regarding business ethics.  When making policies about job creation, Governments should not be thinking about jobs but should always act with due consideration to the lives of the persons involved.      

CRAIG MOKHIBER, Chief of the Development and Economic and Social Issues Branch, United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the challenge was not just about work but about decent work, so the emphasis was very much on the quality of employment and on applying the rule of law in the economic and business spheres.  The International Labour Organization had a number of conventions in place and there were approximately 160 States parties to those conventions, by which they were bound.  A number of specific instruments were in place to ensure the rights of vulnerable groups, such as women, children and migrant workers.  Specialized instruments were important for understanding the type of law to be applied in each case.  Particular emphasis was placed on free, active, and meaningful participation and accountability, non-discrimination, attention to vulnerable groups, and the explicit linkage to international norms and standards.  Concerning the private sector, a paradigm shift had occurred in the way in which the private sector was dealt with in the international system.  Businesses had a responsibility to respect human rights, which required effective regulation, but they were also responsible for providing remedies for any harm caused by them.  The post-2015 development agenda, which should be based on human rights, was an opportunity to get things right for workers.     

Ethiopia said that the labour market was strictly guided by law in Ethiopia.  Like the rest of African countries, Ethiopia was one of the destinations of Chinese investment but these investments had not created the thousands of jobs often cited. 

Sudan said that it believed that conflict in the field of employment had to be resolved by dialogue and negotiation and not using any other methods that may be included under what had been referred to as the concept of social protection.  To what extent had the International Labour Organization succeeded in seeking to apply standards that would realize the concept of decent work?

Colombia agreed with what was said about the importance of International Labour Organization standards and of human rights instruments.  Decent work was ensured by compliance with these minimum standards on work based on respect for human rights.  In its case, the International Labour Organization conventions and others were incorporated into domestic legislation and were mandatory for all the population.

European Union said that it was committed to ensuring respect for human rights, including the package of fundamental freedoms related to work.  It aimed at consolidating and supporting democracy, rule of law, human rights and the principles of international law.  The rights of workers and employers’ organizations could only be exercised in a democracy, in a climate where human rights were recognised.

Nigeria said that there could not be decent work if human rights were violated.  Given the impact of the global economic crisis, the international community, in collaboration with actors such as the International Labour Organization, should intensify efforts to promote growth, focusing on the implementation of relevant job creation policies, including for young women and persons with disabilities.  More should be done in the area of social protection.  

Norway said that it supported the normative role of the United Nations system, which was expected to become even more important in the years to come.  The decent work agenda was very important, as were the rights of the most vulnerable workers, such as persons with disabilities and women.  Equal societies with stronger human rights and a stronger role for women performed much better when it came to promoting sustainable development.  

Venezuela said that the eradication of poverty was equally important as the promotion of decent work.  Decent employment, which was not a new issue, had to be based on social dialogue, the guarantee of human rights, including the right to work, and the adoption of effective policies by States.  Unemployment among young persons was a major concern so emphasis should be placed on protecting labour rights and social security.

Germany expressed its frustration at the discrepancy between what was said in the room and the adoption of relevant resolutions.  Action was needed now in relation to issues identified as priorities.  There was no time to commission one study after another and remain at the level of talk without undertaking actions.  The main challenge was to promote employment through multi-sector cooperation, which included the private sector. 

Greece said that it shared concerns caused by the economic crisis in relation to the realization of all human rights.  Greece would appreciate the views of Mr. Ryder on how to further strengthen International Labour Organization cooperation with other stakeholders. 

GUY RYDER Director-General, International Labour Organization, said that it was worth recalling that economic growth was not the be-all end-all of economic activity.  They had to ensure that economic growth was converted into social progress and social justice.  The transitional mechanism for this lay precisely in the field of human rights and their realization.  They really had to make the case and make it strongly, convincingly, and with sufficient political forth for it to prevail.  The success story of the International Labour Organization’s normative function was remarkable, varying from headline making progress recorded over years, to the improvements in the working lives of people around the world.  On how to improve the impact of its supervisory work, the way it had been most effective in bringing change and progress was to harness the findings of its supervisory system that determined where Member States were not respecting obligations under ratified conventions.  It established the gap between obligation and reality, which was extremely important. Little by little, it found ways to work with its constituents, to find ways to bring situations in conformity with ratified conventions, as happened in Myanmar and Colombia.  It was extremely important that private business respect human rights.  The need for coherence was well established.  It was hoped that general intentions could be turned into concrete and operable targets and objections, with all the caveats required.  The issue of informality was a key issue.  The International Labour Organization was engaged in a process that would lead to discussion at its annual conference in 2014 on formalization of the informal economy. 

Nepal said that jobless growth, persistent poverty and unemployment were issues of major concern.  Inequality in social protection, a low level of investment, the lack of appropriate technology, and insufficient structures all exacerbated the problem.  Despite the existence of human rights instruments and institutions, unemployment continued to affect the world population, including women.  How could cooperation with the corporate sector be strengthened in order to create more jobs in Nepal?  

GEETA RAO GUPTA, Deputy Executive Director, United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, said that economic growth needed to be based on human rights and social justice.  The International Monetary Fund had shown with data that a focus on equity helped to foster economic growth.  Therefore, the United Nations Children’s Fund had taken on equity as the basis for all its work.  Greater emphasis should be placed on the supervisory capacity of the various committees, which, in cooperation with States, should bring about the effective implementation of the treaties which States had signed.  Other actors should be brought into this, especially civil society organizations, which had a good local knowledge and could help to achieve the results sought.  The United Nations Children’s Fund was committed to stopping the unacceptable practice of recruiting child soldiers and was doing all it could to ensure the rehabilitation of children who had been subjected to such practices.    

NIKLAS BRUUN, Member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, said that one reason for this discussion had to do with globalization and that States today were weak.  The issue of globalization decreed that they had to deal with these issues on a global level.  The Committee observed that the austerity policy that had been taken in Greece had been designed in very strong cooperation with the European Union institutions and found that these policies had detrimental effects on women in several spheres of life.  In Greece, the figures of unemployment for women were greater than for men.  On the level of accepting certain types of problems and defining them as real problems in the labour market, the CEDAW Convention had an important function.  The issue of sexual harassment in the workplace was regarded as a problem and the issue of regulation of a-typical work had become accepted.  On the future agenda and how partnerships and development aid should be addressed, including gender specific considerations, it would be important for gender specific considerations to see women as actors of economic development and growth and avoid processes where this approach was not present.  The Committee was also very concerned by childcare as a very important part of labour market policy. 

ROBERTO SUAREZ SANTOS, Deputy Secretary General, International Organization of Employers, said that what might be missing in the debate was that it was critical and hugely relevant that in order to obtain a decent right approach, the enabling environment for business was critical.  They should not be scared to talk about flexibility.  The International Labour Organization produced a useful resolution in 2007 on sustainable enterprise approach that dealt with the necessity of creating this environment.  The importance of a coherent approach was underlined by Mr. Suarez Santos.  It was important that business and the international community respect the need for coordination.  They had to improve not just for the sake of business, but also for the international community.  On whether human rights were always obligatory, there were areas in which there were very clear legal obligations and others which were not so clear in terms of legally binding instruments.  They should bear in mind that there were mixed areas. 

WELLINGTON CHIBEBE, Deputy General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation, said that multinational corporations were finding it increasingly difficult to operate in China and wanted to migrate to Africa, especially Ethiopia, so he said that he was pleased to hear that there relevant laws in place in Ethiopia which would make the transition smooth.  Adopting employment laws written in a beautiful language was one thing but the situation was not always the same on the ground, with Governments sometimes abusing their own nationals.  The formal economy no doubt benefited from investment, but development had to be uniform and visible throughout the country, not just in large urban centres while the rest of the country lived in poverty.  Policy evaluation, policy implementation and the robust involvement of Governments were particularly important in that respect.  Mr. Chibebe concluded by wondering whether they could still talk of interpretation of international instruments which they had been using for several decades.

SARAH COOK, Director, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development and discussion moderator, summarizing the main points of the discussion, said that the issues raised this morning included remaining challenges on the ground and implementation difficulties in a changing global environment and a changing financial and economic environment which sometimes undermined the progress which had already been made.  The post-2015 development agenda represented a massive opportunity, so they had to take full advantage of this turn of direction and to make it all coherent in order to put more impetus into the areas of progress which needed it the most.

NESTOR OSORIO, President of the Economic and Social Council, expressed gratitude to the panellists, discussant and the moderator for their valuable contributions.  Regarding the programme of work for this room, agenda item 4 would be taken up, specifically last year’s Ministerial Declaration.  The Chief of Development of Economic and Social issues of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Craig Mokhiber, would be present as a discussant. 


For use of the information media; not an official record

ECOSOC13/013E


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