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ILO agrees on process on Social Dimensions of Globalization

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 22 June 2001 - - The Governing Body of the International Labour Organization adopted Friday the Report of its Working Party on Social Dimensions of Globalization, and agreed to move forward the ILO work in this area, through a process involving raising the technical capabilities of the Working Party, making it a permanent forum (including ad hoc high-level meetings) for exchange of views and dialogue, and for the ILO to contribute to developing an integrated policy framework, through an ILO Report on Social Dimensions of Globalization.

The ILO Director-General Juan Somavia had made the proposals in a report issued earlier this month, and this was discussed at the Working Party meeting on 19 June. At the end of a difficult debate, the Working Party discussions were summed up by the chair, Governing Body President, Amb. Celso Amorim of Brazil, and his Oral Report was before the Governing Body and approved.

In his proposal (GB.281/WP/SDG/1), Somavia had suggested the establishment of a World Commission of Eminent Personalities, with knowledge and experience of the social dimensions of globalization, and chaired by an internationally respected figure of the highest political level. Somavia’s paper suggested the world commission as one of the options for preparing an ILO report. It said: “The report could be the product of a world commission of eminent personalities with outstanding knowledge and experience of the social dimensions of globalization, chaired by an internationally respected figure of the highest political level.”

“Membership of the Commission,” the DG proposal said, “would be designed in such a way that it reflected the major views and policy perspectives in globalization debates, thereby offering prospects for the development of consensual solutions with broad-based support. Members would all participate in their personal capacity. The commission would have maximum impact if it were launched under the aegis of the UN Secretary-General and serviced by a secretariat organized by the ILO, to which the secretariats of interested organizations could detach staff.”

In his summing up, Amorim has said that there was a consensus in the Working Party that the idea of Somavia for a Commission of Eminent Persons to go into the Social Dimensions of Globalization, was worth pursuing, but that “since it would be difficult to agree in the abstract to a Commission”, the Director-General should proceed with his consultations on the issue, and “a final decision” would be taken by the Governing Body in November “in the light of what he brings back to us.”

The skilful summing up by Amorim, in effect enabling the idea of a Commission to be pursued further, came after a very difficult debate in the Working Party, and some tensions and doubts over the move, some fuelled by the idea floated that such a Commission should be headed by former US President Bill Clinton.

In the discussions in the Working Party earlier this week, the employer’s spokesman, Mr. Thusing from Germany while expressing support for some aspects of the proposals, took objection to some of the press reports and wondered “who was spinning them”, but did not mention Clinton. The workers’ representative, Lord Brett, in supporting the proposals and arguing for moving the ILO consideration forward, made a reference to Clinton’s name figuring in the reports and described as ‘fanciful’.

“After Mr. Clinton’s role in Seattle, if I wanted to put a name forward to go and see that which would turn every developing country’s stomach away from such a discussion, I would mention the name of President Clinton,” Lord Brett said, adding, “I do not believe that he is real in the sense of a facilitator in this area. I wonder why someone either invented the name...”

The workers wanted to have “real discussions” on the issues at the ILO, and not create a forum for a “talking- shop”. Also, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions will be pressing in Qatar in November for the establishment of a link between trade and labour standards, but the workers’ group in the ILO did not want that debate at Doha to come into the ILO debates in a way that would take away whether the ILO had a responsibility in this area or not.

Earlier, the employer’s delegate was critical of information being ‘leaked’ to the media first, and wanted ‘complete transparency’ in the Office’s work and consultations in this area. While the idea of an ILO report was not a bad one, the employers were concerned that they would be ‘informed’ of the development of a report, but which would be prepared by the ILO Director-General who might present it to the UN Secretary-General as resulting from the tripartite ILO.  That would not be acceptable to the employers.

The employers also objected to the process and the work of the ILO “being opened up to NGOs”. Whatever the constituents might do at the national level, the ILO work had to be confined to its tripartite character.

Brett, however, noted that even now over 500 NGOs had participated in the International Labour Conference, and in any debate on globalization, the ILO could not ignore civil society views and the views of those who had a contribution to make on specific issues.

Among the government representatives, Cuba, for the Group of 77 and China, supported enhancing the capacity of the Working Party to discuss the issues, with documents prepared clearly and focussing on development and equity aspects of the problem of globalization, with conclusions drawn on the basis of consensus. The proposed study should be conducted by the ILO and the Report prepared on that basis. The option of a world commission could be considered later, and consultations on this should be continued.

In other interventions in the Working Party, India in a statement on behalf of Bahrain, Bangladesh, China, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Kuwait, Malaysia, Nepal, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates and Zimbabwe, felt the DG’s proposal and document reflected a “balanced approach”, but underscored that the study of social dimensions of globalization should be comprehensive and objective.

However the background document had imbalances by giving “inordinate prominence” to pronouncements of organizations like IMF, World Bank and the WTO, as also of social partners, but had not fully reflected views of governments of developing countries. The subjects identified for study - trade liberalization and employment and investment, and the ILO’s four strategic objectives were “random and not comprehensive”.

The priority topics for study should be identified in advance and agreed among all partners, and should include improvements in the functioning and structure of international trading, economic, monetary and financial systems, particularly to bring about a more inclusive, accountable, transparent and participatory international decision-making that would ensure effective participation of developing countries.

Other topics that the government group wanted to be studied included: impact of international trade and investment on employment generation and poverty reduction, impact of globalization on employment generation, FDI and its relations to the objective of creating employment for all, link between regulation of international financial markets and social stability, impact of structural adjustment programmes on socio-economic development prospects of developing countries, transfer of technology to developing countries , lack of financial resources for development, worsening terms of trade and restricted access to developed country markets, weak domestic infrastructure, crushing debt burden, illiteracy and unemployment.

“While these ills have been in existence for decades, they have been exacerbated by globalization,” and the data available on these was grossly inadequate to develop any consensus. More empirical examination of these issues was hence necessary.

The developing-country governments felt that a high-level segment could be useful, but only after consensus had been built on the issues in question. The work of the Working Party must be based on a promotional approach, and should reject all notions of sanctions.

In his summing up and concluding remarks, Amorim highlighted three important aspects of the discussion.

One was the question of maintaining tripartite control over the process. It was felt that the consultations should continue on the subject, especially with a view to clarifying what the role of the Governing Body would be. A second aspect was transparency. There was a lot of concern that in this process, all decisions should only be taken after full consultations. For e.g., while everybody agreed with the idea that the technical capabilities of the Working Party should be raised, there were different ways on specific ways in which this should be done.  Hence, more consultations were desirable on specific points. The final point of the discussions was the question of development dimensions of the whole exercise. Though these points were already present in the paper, they should be made more explicit.

In summarizing the agreements reached at the Working Party, the Chairman’s Report said the first point of the agreement was that the Working Party had embarked on a process and not a final action. However, it had to take meaningful initial steps, otherwise the process itself would lose credibility.

One step that was not controversial was the question of raising the technical capabilities of the Working Party and having specific subjects for meetings decided in advance. This had general agreement, and there was no opposition.  Many people also said that employment was a very important aspect to be considered and the first item (for the Working Party) was precisely on trade liberalization and employment. It was also very clear that investment, seen in a broader context, was accepted as an important subject with special emphasis on poverty reduction.

There was also general agreement, according to the conclusions and summing up in the report (adopted by the Governing Body on Friday), on the question of having a permanent forum for exchange of views and dialogue. “There could be high-level meetings, but these would be decided on an ad hoc basis. There would have to be prior consultations under the proper constitutional processes of the ILO.”

There was general agreement on enhancing ILO’s contribution to an integrated policy framework, and broad support to the notion of a report on the social dimensions of globalization.

There were different views on the issues to be covered in such a report but these were not contradictory to the suggestions made in the paper, which were seen by some as insufficient. “Therefore, more attention should be given to particular aspects such as those related to development dimension, eradication of poverty and other questions.”

The Director-General, the Working Party chair said, had taken note of these comments and “would take them on board when consulting on the parameters of the report.”

On the proposal for a commission, there were expressions of different preferences. The chair did not actually hear any opposition to the idea, but had heard ideas on how it should be constituted, how it should receive inputs from this or that area, and how the report should be prepared etc. “But I did not really hear any opposition to the idea of a commission.”

Some delegations had felt, in a joint statement, that it would be better to decide on the issue in two years’ time. “Yet it was important that the Working Party act by consensus. There was consensus that the idea of a commission was worth pursuing. Moreover, since it would be very difficult to agree in the abstract to a Commission, it would be sensible to authorize the Director-General to proceed in his consultations and, the final decision would be taken in November in the light of what he brings back to us.”

The Governing Body elected Mr. Alian Ludovic Tou, Minister of Employment, Labour and Social Security of Burkina Faso as Chairman for 2001-2002 session. He replaces Mr. Amorim who chaired the 2000-2001 session. – SUNS4922

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.

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