To address lingering high unemployment, policy makers need to focus on the private sector.
By Peter M. Robinson
We’re not out of the woods yet, but there are signs of economic recovery in the U.S. and abroad. Policy makers’ attention is rightly focused on shaky public finances and lagging job numbers, the latter being a central theme of a number of international gatherings USCIB has been involved in. Labor policies and employment creation are and remain a central focus of our work. I would like to update you on a variety of initiatives in this area.
In April, the U.S. hosted the first-ever meeting of G20 labor ministers in Washington to assess the state of the recovery and make recommendations on employment policy to G20 leaders. Our affiliates IOE and BIAC jointly organized a business forum, hosted by USCIB. The ministerial declaration highlighted the need to reduce poverty and the size of the informal sector, which can reach over 90 percent of GDP in many developing countries. It also called for improved education, lifelong learning, more cooperative labor markets and regulatory reform.
But glaringly absent was a clear commitment to work with the private sector as the primary engine of job growth. Strange as it sounds, ministers spoke about job growth without saying where the jobs will come from – raising the risk that G20 policies coming out of this process will miss the mark. In our view, governments must establish policies to foster economic growth, which will lead to jobs.
Jobs were also at center stage in Geneva at June’s International Labor Conference, the annual meeting of the ILO, where governments, trade unions and employers from over 180 countries gathered to develop international labor standards. The U.S. employer delegation to this year’s conference was headed by Ed Potter of The Coca-Cola Company, who serves as the employer spokesperson on the ILO Committee on Applications of Standards, and included John Oswalt of Procter & Gamble who participated in the employment discussion, Heidi Kaufman of IBM who represented USCIB in the development of an ILO instrument on HIV/AIDS , and John Kloosterman of Littler who participated in the negotiation on a new ILO convention on domestic workers.
The delegation also included USCIB’s Ronnie Goldberg, who serves on the ILO’s Governing Body and is an IOE regional vice chair. At the conference, she led the employers group in the discussion of the agenda and priorities for ILO work on employment. The conclusions of this discussion will likely impact the future allocation of ILO’s resources, including how it works with employers and the IOE in general, so the importance for U.S. business is high.
The key outcomes of the conference included: the finalization of a new ILO recommendation on HIV/AIDS in the workplace, which will build on the ILO code of practice on HIV/AIDS and was supported by the employer group; the development of an ILO work program on employment that supports enterprise development and job creation; a decision to develop a new ILO convention on domestic workers, which will be finalized next year (the employer group had supported developing a recommendation rather than a convention); efforts to improve the follow-up to the 1998 ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, which were also supported by the employer group; and a favorable decision by the Committee on Application of Standards on an IOE complaint against the government of Uzbekistan on the use of forced child labor in cotton production.
On May 4, I was in Washington as Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis hosted the first meeting in 10 years of the President’s Committee on the ILO. Members of the committee include the secretaries of labor, state and commerce; the assistants to the president for national security and economic affairs; the president of the AFL-CIO; and the president of USCIB. The committee’s main job is to review ILO conventions for possible ratification. We agreed to prioritize Convention 111 on non-discrimination, and to review two maritime conventions: 185 on seafarers’ identity cards, and the 2006 Maritime Labor Convention, which consolidates a number of earlier treaties.
USCIB played a leading role in two other meetings with the Obama administration on international labor issues. On March 11, we organized a conference with the Departments of State and Labor on Working Conditions in Global Supply Chains. The event was designed to share information between the private and public sectors on what both are doing to improve labor conditions in supply chains. It attracted over 50 company representatives, and included presentations by Michael Kobori of Levis Strauss & Co., Jeff Morgan of Mars, Inc., Monique Oxender of Ford Motor Company and Michael Vaudreuil of Hewlett-Packard.
USCIB also participated in a June 8 inter-agency meeting on child labor. This scourge is mainly found deep at the bottom of the value chain, where few – if any – supply chain programs can reach. Over 60 percent of child labor worldwide is in agriculture, 25 percent in services like domestic work, and only seven percent in factory settings. As one indication of how deep-seated this problem is, over 70 percent of child labor takes place in the form of non-paid family work, where children work with their families instead of going to school. The June 8 session focused on the need to address the root causes of child labor – lack of economic growth and job opportunities for parents, poor access to education for children, and ineffective enforcement of national laws against child labor.
So it has been an exceptionally busy spring on the labor and employment front. We are especially grateful to all our members who have contributed to our work in this area, and of course to our staff experts Ronnie Goldberg and Adam Greene. We can expect to see an ongoing focus on international labor issues, especially if unemployment rates remain relatively high. USCIB will continue to represent your interests in these discussions, and work to promote policies that lead to sustainable growth and job creation.
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