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UN labour chief: world economy should focus more on needs of society

Director-General International Labour Organization Juan Somavia.
UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré
Director-General International Labour Organization Juan Somavia.

UN labour chief: world economy should focus more on needs of society

Economic Development

The head of the United Nations labour agency today told a major work forum that the world economy has focussed too much on finance and too little on the needs of society.

“There has been too much ideology in defining policies and too little human sensitivity to the individuals, families, communities – too much financial, too little social,” the Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Juan Somavia, said in a speech to the plenary meeting of the 101st International Labour Conference.

He added that it is possible to turn the inefficient growth patterns of today’s world economy around but this requires a redefinition of priorities and the political conviction to overcome the dogmas of the past.

Nearly 5,000 delegates have gathered for the conference, taking place in Geneva, which is focused on the global jobs crisis and its impact on youth, as well as social protection and rights at work.

In his remarks, Mr. Somavia said that the financial crash of 2008 was “not just an unfortunate accident on a safe road” but rather a “pile-up” caused by a globalization model whose values were shaped in the 80s, picked up speed in the 90s and have now “gone out of control.”

According to ILO, around 30 million people have been added to the unemployed since the 2008 financial crisis, and nearly 40 million more have stopped looking for employment.

The prospect of several more years of lingering crisis or feeble recovery is opening minds, said the ILO chief, noting that this prolonged period of uncertainty can also be a potential period of creativity if world leaders redefine priorities.

Growth, however indispensable, can no longer be the key criterion for the world economy, Mr. Somavia said. He added that creating quality jobs, especially for youth, reducing poverty and informal work, promoting growth of middle classes, as well as providing fair access to opportunities, should from now on also be criteria to measure macroeconomic success.

The ILO 2009 Global Jobs Pact can be a useful tool in this process, he noted.

The Pact was adopted by the ILO in 2009 as a response to the 2007/8 global economic crisis, and offers a range of crisis response initiatives that countries can adapt to their specific needs and situation. These measures include retaining persons in employment, sustaining enterprises, and accelerating employment creation and jobs recovery, all combined with social protection, especially for the most vulnerable.