Promoting Social Justice in the New Global Economy

By Hansenne, Michel | Monthly Labor Review, September 1994 | Go to article overview

Promoting Social Justice in the New Global Economy


Hansenne, Michel, Monthly Labor Review


Organizations constantly have to adapt to change. This has been true of the International Labor Organization (ILO) throughout its existence and is more than ever true today. In recognition of the organization's 75th anniversary, the theme of this article, "Defending values, promoting change: social justice in a global economy," depicts the nature of new challenges facing member nations. While the basic mission of the ILO--promoting social justice throughout the world--remains unchanged, the world in which it is to be carried out has changed profoundly in recent years. The international arena is contantly driven by rapid change in the geopolitical scene, far-reaching technical progress, and the intensification of economic globalization.

While many of these changes promise greater efficiency, higher growth, employment creation possibilities, and ultimately, enhanced social welfare, such improvements will not be realized automatically. On the contrary, they will impose a heavy burden of adjustment in all countries and on all groups within countries, with the serious risk of rising inequality both among and within countries as a result. These are fertile conditions for social conflict that could frustrate the necessary processes of change. Thus, social issues need to be given substantial weight by the international community, and to be fully taken into account in managing the global economy.

Indeed, there is a great challenge to the international community today, and it is twofold. The first is to create institutions that promote effective international cooperation to manage the global economic and social transformations that are under way. The second is to adopt national policies and programs that support efficient and equitable ways for making the required economic and social changes.

The ILO is clearly obligated to play in important role in mobilizing international action to meet the challenges of globalization. In doing so, it will continue defending its core values of basic worker rights, tripartism, and social justice. But the ILO must also develop innovative means to translate these values into social reality because prescriptions to regulate the labor market and develop social policy often require updating.

This willingness to innovate is essential for the continued relevance of the ILO in its major fields of competence: labor standards, industrial relations, employment, training, and social security. In each of these fields, there is a need to adapt existing paradigms to new realities and the lessons of experience. For instance, the standardsetting activity and machinery should be adapted to the profound changes that have occurred in the nature and organization of work, as well as to the pressing social issues resulting from freer international trade and globalization of production and markets. For example, I have called for a more rigorous procedure for choosing subjects for new standards, more emphasis on evaluating existing standards, and efforts to improve the compliance of member states with ILO Conventions relating to fundamental rights. I also have offered alternatives, consistent with the voluntary nature of the ILO, to encourage governments, employers, and workers to find a multilateral approach to developing fair labor standards and free international trade.

In industrial relations, changes in labor market institutions as well as the emerging "crossborder" dimensions of collective bargaining systems have to be taken into account through dialogue and interaction between governments, employers, and workers. Social dialogue, collective bargaining, and compromise all must be encouraged everywhere and at every opportunity, because they are the key to economic and social stability. Tripartism--the symbiosis of business, labor, and government--is indeed an invaluable institution and the ILO has to ensure that it is fully recognized at the international level. This is one of the fundamental aspects of the work that lies ahead.

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