Global Employment and Social Challenges: Emerging Trends and Role of the ILO

Alexandra Williams

Policy Brief: Global Employment and Social Challenges: Emerging Trends and Role of the ILO (GB.323/HL/1)

The ILO’s Leadership Role in implementing the United Nation’s ‘Decent Work’ Agenda

In September 2015 the United Nations is due to adopt a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The role of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in helping to achieve these SDGs was among the topics discussed at the ILO’s 323rd Governing Body Meeting, held in March 2015. As a UN Organisation, the ILO has been commissioned to be the forefront of expertise, social protection and skills development for the 8th SDG to ‘promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all’.[1]

Guy Ryder, the Director-General of the ILO, emphasised at the Governing Body Meeting the importance of the ILO’s role in implementing provisions to promote ‘decent work’.[2] Moreover, Mr Ryder declaring that decent work was the political cement needed to bring all countries together to ensure a job-rich economic recovery. Amina Mohammed, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Advisor on Post-2015 Development Planning, congratulated the 323rd Governing Body for its work in providing a cooperative response to the UN’s SDG. To further cooperation, Ms Mohammed encouraged the Governing Body to ensure that it was ‘fit for purpose’ and prepared to adopt an integrated UN approach to sustainable development.[3]

Becoming ‘Fit for Purpose’

In the pursuit of making all UN bodies ‘fit for purpose’, the UN recommended that all of its institutional bodies strengthen their internal structures. For the ILO, it was recommended that additional capacities and resources be provided so as to enable it to respond to the new challenges of providing policy coherence across national and international agencies. In particular, the 323rd Governing Body Meeting focused its discussions on strengthening its cooperation between governments, regional bodies, workers and employers. One of the main areas of discussion for the Governing Body in upholding the objectives of Goal 8, focused on strengthening the ILO’s evidence-based research capabilities, in order to effectively lead and advise both national and international bodies to uphold decent work objectives, help to build state capacities and formulate inclusive indicators and targets.[4]


  1. Research

The ILO’s leadership role in implementing the UN’s SDG of Decent Work focuses on its wealth of expertise as a tripartite organisation. Its ability to collect evidence-based research provides the UN with a better understand of what is needed in order to develop internal capabilities and effective strategies to promote the principle of decent work. The ‘Data Revolution for Sustainable Development’ Report commissioned by the UN recommended that the ILO invest in ‘data literacy’ so as to equip itself with ‘the tools, methodologies, capacities and information’ necessary to expose the challenges facing the SDG agenda.[5] Using the example of different rates of economic recovery, the Employers’ Representative recommended that the ILO’s research unit should explore further the reasons for the regional economic differences it has identified in its summary reports. Although, the Employers’ Representative agreed that the ILO’s summary of the economic climate was broadly accurate, it was felt that the report did not explain regional differences in economic recovery. In response, the Director-General reassured the Employers that the ILO’s data revolution had already led to improvements in its dataset. In the pursuit of making the ILO fit for purpose, the ILO’s Governance and Tripartism Sector (GOVERNANCE) had already begun to deepen its investigative research. The GOVERANCE sector’s research has already been broadened to incorporate institutional bureaucracy and funding, the age of a political system, its legal system and employment laws into its final analysis. This, in turn, has enabled the ILO to share ‘good practises’ with its members on the basis of this research. One of the main ways the ILO shares these practises is through its International Training Centre workshops in Turin. Through its training centre, the ILO has encouraged its members to create more coherent and inclusive frameworks, suited to their country, to effectively protect workers’ rights and promote the working conditions associated with ‘decent work’. The Governing Body welcomed these achievements and encouraged the continued strengthening of its evidence based research function.

  1. Advisory Role

As the ILO prepares for its leadership role next year, the Governing Body discussed the strength of its advisory role in developing country specific strategies to achieve the UN’s decent work objectives.[6] In these discussions, the Columbian Representative noted that this privilege awarded the ILO gave the organisation a greater political and ethical authority over governments that are unable to uphold decent labour rights and conditions. The representative for the Russian Federation also highlighted the importance of the ILO’s advisory leadership role in combating inequalities within the global labour market head on. The Russian Federation supported the ILO’s case-by-case advisory approach to decent work and emphasised the importance of building internal capabilities as opposed to adopting universalised strategies. This was a lesson learnt from the challenges faced by the UN in implementing its Millennium Development Goals (MDG). As a result, the Governing Body concluded that its constituents should continue to engage in national policy-making discussions to promote proactive efforts to secure decent work for all.[7]

  1. Inclusive Indicators and Targets

The UN’s ‘Road to Dignity Synthesis Report’ provided the foundation for the Governing Body’s final discussions on the provision of inclusive indicators and targets to measure decent work and institutional progress.[8] The report emphasised the need for ‘measurable targets and technically rigorous indicators’ to ensure the full realisation of the UN’s sustainable development agenda.[9] By combining expert consultations, multi-stakeholder dialogue, and evidence-based responses to specific country capabilities, the Governing Body agreed that the ILO had a unique opportunity to provide a set of ‘robust goals’ and indicators to strengthen its member states accountability, and tackle inequality and improve social inclusion.[10] However, some issues were raised in the Governing Body Meeting concerning how many targets should be assigned to Goal 8. The Governing Body agreed to favour a shorter list of global indicators but insisted on a fuller list of indicators when assessing individual cases.[11] By constructing a more inclusive list of indicators, the Workers’ Group Representative highlighted the importance of including poverty levels when measuring employment rates and broadening the scope of research to account for rural and agricultural family work to include those most susceptible to lower standards of working conditions. The Representative of Columbia also recommended that the ILO should address standards of health and safety in the informal sector when formulating country specific targets to strengthen the ILO’s formalisation of the informal sector.


In summary, the discussions at the 323rd Governing Body Meeting focused firmly on the UN’s new comprehensive sustainable development framework and its role in promoting decent work as the answer to ensuring a job-rich recovery. The Governing Body requested that its constituents strengthen their engagement with national policy-making discussions to ensure that the ILO is fit for purpose in promoting decent work. To establish the ILO’s leadership role over Goal 8, the Governing Body requested the Director-General to maintain and strengthen the ILO’s engagement in the G20 process, the post-2015 sustainable development agenda and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21), taking into account the views expressed during the discussions.[12]

[1] UN, ‘Sustainable Development Goals’,, (accessed on 7th April 2015)

[2] OECD, International Labour Office, ‘Local Economic and Employment Development (LEED) Job-rich Growth (OECD Publishing, 2011), p.16

[3] Economic and Social Council, ‘United Nations Must Become ‘Fit for Purpose’ in Supporting Development in Post-2015 Era, Deputy Secretary-General Tells ECOSOC Segment’,, (accessed on 7th April 2015)

[4] GB.323/HL/1, paragraph 45

[5] UN, ‘Data Revolution for Sustainable Development’,, (accessed on 7th April 2015)

[6] ILO, ‘The post-2015 sustainable development agenda: Update’ ,GB.322/INS/6, (2014) p.6

[7] GB.323/HL/1

[8] UN, ‘The road to dignity by 2030: ending poverty, transforming all lives and protecting the planet Synthesis Report’,, p.30, (accessed on 7th April 2015)

[9] GB.323/HL/1

[10] GB.323/HL/1

[11] GB.323/HL/1

[12] GB.323/HL/1

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