Employers’ Vision of the ILO Summer 2008

From the President’s Desk:

Focusing international labor policy on entrepreneurship and enterprise creation

By Peter M. Robinson

Peter M. Robinson
Peter M. Robinson

Globalization and the integration of international markets have been a tremendous benefit for the countries that have prepared themselves to take advantage of the new opportunities they provide. But for those countries that have failed to adjust or reform, these forces have exposed systemic failures in national governance that have in turn led to considerable social upheaval due to increased competition and changing labor markets.

Since social pressures can present a considerable barrier to maintaining or expanding international integration, a key policy challenge for international business is to develop effective mechanisms that can help countries reform their domestic policies to respond better to new external pressures. One such mechanism, the International Labor Organization (ILO) – the UN agency responsible for international labor and social policy – could play a leading role in this effort, and business is taking the lead to make it more responsive to employers’ needs.

Focusing on Current Needs

Abe Katz   At the IOE’s May General Council meeting in Geneva, USCIB President Emeritus Abe Katz officially concluded his two-year term as the IOE’s chairman, passing the baton to Prof. Wiseman Nkhulu of South Africa.  Mr. Katz noted the continuing relevance of the ILO to the conduct of international business, particularly at a time when the relationship between trade and labor standards has become an important political issue.  USCIB President Peter Robinson and Executive Vice President Ronnie Goldberg also hosted a dinner in honor of Mr. Katz attended by employer members of the ILO Governing Body, business and labor union representatives to the International Labor Conference, and senior U.S. government and ILO officials.  Many in attendance worked with Mr. Katz during his years as USCIB’s president (1984-98), when he served on the ILO Governing Body.  Toasts were made by numerous participants, including IOE Secretary General Antonio Peñalosa, IOE Executive Vice Chairman Daniel Funes de Rioja, International Trade Union Confederation Secretary General Guy Ryder, and ILO Director General Juan Somavia.  All reflected deep respect and admiration felt by colleagues from all sides. USCIB and its members have deeply appreciated Abe’s leadership over the past 24 years.
Abe Katz
At the IOE’s May General Council meeting in Geneva, USCIB President Emeritus Abe Katz officially concluded his two-year term as the IOE’s chairman, passing the baton to Prof. Wiseman Nkhulu of South Africa. Mr. Katz noted the continuing relevance of the ILO to the conduct of international business, particularly at a time when the relationship between trade and labor standards has become an important political issue. USCIB President Peter Robinson and Executive Vice President Ronnie Goldberg also hosted a dinner in honor of Mr. Katz attended by employer members of the ILO Governing Body, business and labor union representatives to the International Labor Conference, and senior U.S. government and ILO officials. Many in attendance worked with Mr. Katz during his years as USCIB’s president (1984-98), when he served on the ILO Governing Body. Toasts were made by numerous participants, including IOE Secretary General Antonio Peñalosa, IOE Executive Vice Chairman Daniel Funes de Rioja, International Trade Union Confederation Secretary General Guy Ryder, and ILO Director General Juan Somavia. All reflected deep respect and admiration felt by colleagues from all sides. USCIB and its members have deeply appreciated Abe’s leadership over the past 24 years.

The main challenge in making the ILO more effective and relevant for the business community is to focus its machinery on developing practical and workable solutions to current social and labor policy challenges. The global business community took a significant step forward in this area when the International Organization of Employers (IOE) – one of USCIB’s key international affiliates – produced an Employers’ Vision of the ILO, a comprehensive business agenda for the ILO.

Developed under the direction of Abe Katz (see box), the outgoing chairman of the IOE and USCIB’s president emeritus, the Employers’ Vision presents a clear agenda for the ILO that promotes entrepreneurship and enterprise creation, the main ways jobs are created and sustained. The vision also calls for increased attention on productivity improvements through education, skills development and training.

The IOE also calls for international labor standards that are practical and implementable.  Many existing standards set goals so impossibly high that few countries ratify them, and those that do so are unable to enforce them. Similarly, the IOE paper stresses that the ILO must help countries reform labor laws and other regulations that stifle enterprise creation and job growth, and which force operators into the ineffective and constraining informal economy.

International Business Leadership

Changing the ILO will not be easy or painless. A key reason for hope is that the ILO has a tripartite structure that is unique in the UN, meaning that employers and trade unions share voting power with the ILO’s member governments and participate in its oversight and management. USCIB Executive Vice President Ronnie Goldberg was recently re-elected to a second term on the ILO Governing Body.

On a broader level, USCIB relies on the IOE to coordinate international business engagement in the ILO. I was able to see the IOE in action at the annual International Labor Conference in June, when representatives of the IOE’s 145 national affiliates from 138 countries gathered in Geneva to speak on behalf on their business communities. The IOE is poised to build on the considerable achievements of Abe Katz in his term as IOE chairman under the new leadership of Professor Wiseman Nkuhlu, chairman of Pan African Capital Holdings of South Africa.

For more information or to get involved, please contact USCIB’s Adam Greene  (212-703-5056, agreene@uscib.org).

Mr. Robinson’s bio and contact information

More on USCIB’s Labor and Employment Committee

Learn more about the IOE

Other recent postings from Mr. Robinson:

New Financial Challenges on the Horizon (Spring 2008)

Trade Can Save the Climate (Winter 2007-2008)

From E-Commerce to the “Internet Economy” (Autumn 2007)

Business and Human Rights, Revisited (Spring 2007)

Staff Contact:   Peter Robinson

President and CEO
Tel: 212.703.5046

Peter Robinson is USCIB’s 15th president. USCIB, founded in 1945, is a policy advocacy and trade services organization dedicated to promoting open markets, competitiveness and innovation, sustainable development and corporate responsibility, supported by international engagement and regulatory coherence.
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