ECOSOC1 April 2015: The 2015 Integration Segment of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) addressed the theme of ‘Achieving sustainable development through employment creation and decent work for all.’ Bringing together leaders from the public and private sectors, in dialogue with UN Member States and civil society representatives, the Segment examined policy recommendations for decent work and employment, and how these issues fit in with ongoing discussions on the post-2015 development agenda and other UN processes.

The 2015 Integration Segment, the second such meeting under ECOSOC, took place from 30 March-1 April 2015, at UN Headquarters in New York, US. The Segment was mandated by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in Resolution 68/1 on the strengthening of ECOSOC, in order to “consolidate all the inputs of Member States, the subsidiary bodies of the Council, the United Nations system and other relevant stakeholders and to promote the balanced integration of the three dimensions of sustainable development.” The segment also aimed to provide policy guidance to the relevant bodies of the UN system. The International Labor Organization (ILO) was a partner in planning the Segment.

Opening Remarks

Opening the meeting, Vladimir Drobnjak, Vice-President of ECOSOC (Croatia), said “unemployment and underemployment remain top priorities for many countries,” and noted that social protection schemes around the world fall short of protecting vulnerable people. He called for including productive capacities, decent work, and social protection in the post-2015 development agenda.

Einar Gunnarsson, Permanent Representative of Iceland, on behalf of Sam Kutesa, President of the UN General Assembly, remarked that unemployment has increased globally, particularly since the global economic and financial crisis of 2008. He called for: transforming and diversifying economies; improving agricultural productivity; giving greater attention to the promotion and expansion of domestic, regional and international trade; including environmental sustainability as part of any sustainable growth and development strategy; and using policies that facilitate women’s employment and better education.

Jan Eliasson, UN Deputy Secretary-General, on behalf the UN Secretary-General, remarked that the world is “caught in an employment crisis” and underlined the importance of promoting economic growth that is “both sustainable and inclusive” by adopting measures such as labor-market policies to ensure equal access and opportunities for women, and investing in a “future-oriented” and green economy.

Keynote Addresses

Jakaya Kikwete, President, Republic of Tanzania, said job creation should be a “critical component” of the next development agenda. He noted the importance for Africa of: supporting programmes of self-employment to assist young people; getting support for the implementation of programmes and projects; and formalizing the informal sector.

Perry Gladstone Christie, Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas and Chair of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), stressed the need to integrate young people into economies, and for ensuring that “those who are losing hope with unemployment do not give up.”

Stefan Löfven, Prime Minister of Sweden, said social justice is both “ethically right and economically smart.” Noting that true globalization is based on the idea of sharing, he said “we share a planet, we share an environment, and we increasingly share a labor market,” he added that States need to recognize social partners as an essential part of democratic governance.

Perspectives from Business and Labor

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), recommended that the UN work with the ILO to tackle inequality, especially through: social protection; minimum wages; collective bargaining for wages; and decent work. She further noted that sustainable development must have jobs as its base.

Daniel Funes de Rioja, President, International Organization of Employers (IOE), said two fundamental conditions are necessary to generate employment: structural reforms to increase mobility across the labor market, especially for small and medium enterprises (SMEs); and aligning educational systems with the labor market, including promotion of apprenticeship.

The ‘Big Think’ on Jobs and Growth

A roundtable session moderated by Richard Quest, CNN, brought together officials including: Marianne Thyssen, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Mobility; Guy Ryder, Director-General, ILO; Min Zhu, Deputy Managing Director, International Monetary Fund (IMF); and Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate and Professor of Economics, Columbia University.

Stiglitz and other panelists urged participants to address the problem of youth unemployment, noting that youth might otherwise be old “by the time we address these issues.” Proposals made by roundtable panelists highlighted the need to: invest in green economy; create an environment and take more action to promote investment; have a social dialogue and social partners to develop policies that “are accepted and acceptable”; and protect the poor via social protection floors.

Panelists also raised the need to bring more women into the labor force, and called for the equal participation of women in the labor market through measures such as childcare services and flexible working hours. Some observed that carbon taxes and other taxes can help stimulate the economy and invest in human capital. Others cautioned about high taxation, preferring “progressive taxation,” and called for new trade agreements that consider safety and health regulations. Discussions also covered structural reforms, and pointed out that such reforms can increase inequality or address inequality, depending on how they are carried out.

Solutions to Climate Change: Growing Decent Jobs

Michael Renner, The Worldwatch Institute, moderated a discussion on ‘Solutions to Climate Change: Growing Decent Jobs.’ He emphasized that economic prosperity depends on a stable climate and healthy ecosystems.

Robert Pollin, University of Massachusetts, presented a proposal for a 20-year global climate stabilization program of investing 1.5% of global gross domestic product (GDP) in clean energy for the next 20 years. He explained that this approach would reach a 40% reduction in global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and increase jobs worldwide.

Miles Sampa, Deputy Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry of Zambia, described his country’s new establishment of a Zambia Green Building association that coordinates green initiatives, incentivizes the use of sustainable materials, and promotes the use of local resources.

Gayle Schueller, 3M Company, gave examples about how the company applies science to reduce its carbon footprint, such as using materials that would be wasted in the field to replace petroleum-based materials and create green products. She added that a great impact can be made through collaborating with costumers.

Peter Poschen, ILO, said to choose between environmental sustainability and economic profit is a false dilemma, stressing the need for capacity building, technology transfer, access to finance, vocational skills, and entrepreneurship.

Making Dignity and Prosperity the Norm

Ryder said the post-2015 development agenda needs to be a social contract between the people of the world and the governments of the UN, and should be based on dignity and shared prosperity. He underlined the need to involve employers, workers’ organizations and other stakeholders in the agenda.

Luis Eduardo Garzón, Minister of Labor, Colombia, stressed the need to manage and strengthen social dialogues and, together with ILO, to monitor the ratification of existing conventions. He underscored the need to bring everyone into the formal economy, to generate employment in rural areas, and to bring youth “on board.”

Radosław Mleczko, Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Policy, Poland, underlined the strength of the relationship between respect for international labor standards and increased “employability.” He said collective bargaining agreements make business conditions more predictable and reliable, and that social dialogue results in economic efficiency.

Phil Jennings, General Secretary, UNI Global Union, argued that “the more you weaken workers’ voices, the more you strangle collective bargaining, and the more inequality will be in your economy.” He stressed the need for governments and employers to implement the ILO’s declaration on decent work.​

Edward E. Potter, Director of Global Workplace Rights, The Coca-Cola Company, stressed that the company is highly unionized and emphasizes workplace rights and the rule of law. Coca-Cola conducts over 2,500 self-audits per year of itself, its bottlers, and its supply chain, he said, to ensure the quality and level of labor inspection.

Assessing Progress 20 Years after Beijing and Copenhagen

Simona Mirela Miculescu, Permanent Representative of Romania and Chairperson of the UN Commission for Social Development (CSocD), explained the legacy of the decent work agenda in the 1995 Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development. Since Copenhagen, she said, the world has not met the goal of full employment, as global unemployment remains unacceptably high. She called for policies that “adequately and efficiently combat unemployment” in order to strengthen social development in the modern world. Stressing that decent work opportunities must be considered a major goal and means of achieving the post-2015 development agenda, she emphasized that both decent work and sustainable development are cornerstones of sustainable development.

Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, Permanent Representative of Brazil and Chairperson of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), presented the outcome of CSW 59 held in March 2015. Twenty years after the Beijing Platform for Action, he said, the world is not making enough progress, and “cannot afford to leave half of humankind behind.” He explained that gender gaps in labor participation rates remain stark, and women remain clustered in vulnerable and informal work. Patriota applauded the CSW for raising the visibility around issues of employment and decent work for women.

At Work in Africa

Ismael Abraão Gaspar Martins, Permanent Representative of Angola, moderated the panel on employment in Africa.

Ebrahim Patel, Minister for Economic Development, South Africa, highlighted emerging consensus around the critical challenges faced globally from the deficit of aggregate demand, which results in sluggish growth of the global economy. He said its cause is a series of deep structural problems rooted in 350 years of the African colonial experience.

Hakim Ben Hammouda, Special Adviser to the African Development Bank (AfDB) President, noted that Africa is experiencing high but job-poor economic growth rates, and that current unemployment rates at 15-20% cause governments to develop short-term rather than long-term solutions. He stressed the importance of getting the right mix of macroeconomic policies to boost economic growth and job creation by focusing on policies that: increase aggregate domestic demand; diversify African economies; and decrease the bureaucracy surrounding public procurement and entrepreneurship.

Aeneas Chuma, Assistant Director-General and Regional Director for Africa, ILO, highlighted that the majority of the labor force in Africa is in the informal economy, and noted difficulties associated with transitioning into the formal economy. He discussed the need to strengthen legal protections for people working in the informal sector, and to promote ILO’s agenda for decent work. He also noted the need to strengthen the role of trade unions, focus on sustainable SMEs, and create a regulative environment.

Alioune Sall, Executive Director of the African Futures Institute, also noted Africa’s job-poor economic growth and large size of its informal economy. He cited as causes: low integration of the African economy into the global economy; insufficient increase of domestic consumption and demand, owing to export-led growth strategies; and missing links between very small firms in Africa and multinational companies. Sall called for macroeconomic policies for redistribution and growth, South-South cooperation, and technology transfer to the global South.

In a statement delivered by David Hamam, OSAA, Maged Abdelaziz, Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Africa, noted the importance of the green economy for creating jobs in Africa. He flagged the ‘Blue Print for African Growth’ plan and stressed its emphasis on sustainable development. He also said African policy makers need better data and stronger statistical capacities. He emphasized the need for African countries to find and produce products where they have global comparative advantage, and find finance for labor-intensive sectors and diversifying their economies.

In a general debate, Member States discussed: the effects of the global financial crisis on slowing down employment rates; the risks of high youth unemployment to social cohesion; the needs for social protection schemes and greater gender equality; the creation of green jobs in the fields of infrastructure, agriculture, and tourism; and the 2016 ILO conference on decent work and green supply chains.

Finding the Opportunities: Matching Education and Skills to Market Demands

A panel on ‘Finding the Opportunities: Matching Education and Skills to Market Demands’ brought together: Elizabeth A. Vazquez, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Co-Founder of WeConnect International; Ron Bruder, Founder of Education for Employment; and Zach Sims, Co-founder and CEO of Codecademy. The panel was moderated by Antonio Prado, Deputy Executive Secretary, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

Panelists highlighted the need to: focus on market-based solutions; ensure transparency of business practices and close communication between employees and employers; think “out of the box” and be flexible in terms of changing skills so as to adapt to the demand of the market; and encourage employers to recognize this need for flexibility in “a system that is always changing.” Vasquez underscored that information and communications technology (ICT) is one of the best “things that happened” as it allows for flexibility and improves the ability to communicate, engage and learn.

Some panelists identified challenges based on their work experience. Bruder observed that while efforts are being made in the Middle East and North Africa region to provide equal opportunity for men and women, the marketplace does not often respond to this call. He also said government requirements and over-regulation in the region can become an impediment to entrepreneurship. Referring to higher education, Sims said students should not only consider economic factors, but pursue their education so as to find a career that satisfies them.

In the ensuing discussion, delegates asked various questions, including on: identifying labor intensive sectors; promoting technologies in rural areas; the future of people in low-wage jobs who lack access to technology; examples of cases where technology “leaves people behind” rather than helping them “move forward”; and the role of cooperatives and the UN on matching education and skills to market.

Taking the floor, Member States highlighted: the discrepancies between demand and supply in the labor market; youth unemployment; the importance of trade; the important role of SMEs; the contribution to high labor standards to increasing productivity; and creating new ministers for tackling unemployment. India noted that employment is the bedrock for social inclusion. Honduras mentioned that it has agreed on delivery of an e-learning program that will be accessible in English, free of charge for youth.

Participants also stressed the need for: structural reforms of the job market; stimulating employment and inclusion of less-employable persons; focusing on the aging population and youth; policies conducive to apprenticeship; improving access to micro-finance; universal access to education; policies to foster inclusive growth; investment in research and development; increasing the share of manufacturing in the country’s GDP; policies that support the transition from informal to formal employment; social protection nets; and creating part-time contracts and flexible work hours to support women.​

Means of Implementation: Financing for Development and Partnerships for Decent Work

George Talbot, Permanent Representative of Guyana and Co-Facilitator of the preparatory process for the Third International Conference on Financing for Development (FfD 3), moderated the discussion and explained that the jobs agenda is currently reflected in the proposed outcomes of FfD 3 and the post-2015 development agenda.

Rania Antonopoulos, Alternate Minister of Labor and Social Solidarity of Greece, emphasized that her country is suffering a 25% unemployment rate (50% among youth) that has resulted from an austerity regime and severe five-year recession. She said the government must now engage in direct public job creation and massive employment program to stem the crisis.

Robert Shiller, Nobel Laureate and Professor of Economics at Yale University, proposed solutions such as hiring subsidies for private employers and earned income tax credits to stimulate job growth. He suggested that governments should agree to plans in place that will prevent inequalities from getting worse in the future, such as insurance schemes that deal with inequality and other risks.

Martin Khor, The South Centre, spoke of massive inequality at the international level, and the global structures, rules and standards that should be in place to reduce this inequality. He called for a greater look at the employment generation or depletion effects of trade policies that countries must enforced because of signed agreements.

Wanted: 600 Million Jobs!

Alexander Mora, Minister of Foreign Trade, Costa Rica, stressed the need to address misalignment between the formal and non-formal education systems and the labor market, and to strengthen institutional capabilities for supporting entrepreneurship and domestic enterprises. He further noted that Costa Rica has started establishing public-private partnerships (PPPs) at the highest levels.

Noting that renewables will double their share in the energy mix in the near future, Marie-José Nadeau, Chair of the World Energy Council, highlighted that this will lead to job creation, as projects will need qualified personnel, as well construction workers, technicians, and maintenance personal. She identified two main drivers for developing a renewables sector: strong, stable and predictable national energy policies; and significant energy markets.

“Let’s first address the first major crisis: emaciation of small-holder farmers, which is a major driver of poverty,” said Pavan Sukhdev, Founder-CEO of GIST Advisory. He said there are one billion jobs in agriculture globally, most of them in small-holder farms. “The world does not have a demand for one billion software-makers,” he emphasized.

NS Rajan, Tata Group, noted that the fundamental responsibility of industry is to recognize its responsibility to the community. He added that “women don’t want tokenism, they need support.”

Closing Remarks

Ryder briefly summarized what he called “three full days of hard work and deep discussions.” He spoke of the need to: formalize informal work; tackle climate change; link operational work to a normative basis; respect international labor standards; invest in infrastructure and energy; and realize the potential of young people and equip them with the right skills. He stressed that all of these issues, raised over the course of the meeting, are relevant to the ongoing negotiations on post-2015 development, climate and FfD, as well as the work of the ILO.

Thomas Gass, Assistant-Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), said the ECOSOC Integration Segment has become a unifying platform for Member States and the UN system to debate policy options on important issues. He said this meeting “put the spotlight on the need to get people back to work,” especially to boost sustainable economic growth and a competitive workforce. He stressed that, in the future, the ECOSOC Integration Segment can bring together different aspects of sustainable development and examine priorities across sectors.

Drobnjak said the Segment had addressed the central issues of economic growth and inequalities, and the solutions and partnerships needed to addressed them. He expressed his inspiration from listening to the innovative ideas of speakers, and said he was heartened to know that the discussion had inspired concrete policy recommendations. He said the Segment should provide additional food for thought in the elaboration of the post-2015 development agenda.

Drobnjak also announced that ECOSOC and ILO are jointly working to launch a Global Network of Stakeholders on Employment Creation and Decent Work for Sustainable Development for addressing the global challenge. [Segment Webpage] [Segment Programme] [UNGA President’s Statement] [Deputy Secretary-General’s Statement] [IISD RS Story on 2014 ECOSOC Integration Segment] [UN Press Release] [DESA Press Release] [IISD RS Sources]