International Labour Organization Conference 2016

wcms_486077The 105th International Labour Organization Conference was held at the UN in Geneva. 5,982 representatives from 187 member states came together to share insights and participate in dialogues on advancing opportunities for all to secure equal and dignified working conditions.

The three focus areas as indicated by the ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, are the Standards Initiatives, which was an integral part of the ILO activity, the End to Poverty, and Future of Works initiatives. The outcomes of these discussions are aimed to feed directly into the strategic planning for all ILO programs.

Despite the International Labour Organisation (ILO) being almost 100 years old, it was the first time in history that Global Supply Chains were on the agenda in its annual conference. The tripartite structure includes governments, employers, and workers’ groups that discussed and debated whether and how Global Supply Chains can ensure decent work for all workers globally.

It is acknowledged during the conference, the positive contribution Global Supply Chains have on employment in some countries and regions. However, supply chains have also known to create a permissive environment for labour standards violations and failure to respect decent work. In fact, testimonies were given by worker groups particularly from a range of Asian countries that are facing increased repression from governments and employers in the region. Sharan Burrow, the ITUC General Secretary has called for the end of violence against workers and implored the governments to return to the bargaining table, giving workers the right to freedom of association and minimum living wage and collective bargaining.

The three key learnings from the ILO conference are:

Firstly, progress has been slow to reduce poverty which was a key issue during the conference, Director-General Guy Ryder referred to his report entitled “The End of Poverty Initiative: The ILO and the 2030 Agenda”. He indicated that ILO must set the course for making poverty history by 2030. Its role is to set a compass to guide members in meeting their obligations to apply ratified conventions, and delineate the way which decent work can and must contribute to peace and stability. However, for ILO to be effective, it was highlighted that the role of ILO needs to be expanded for it to work on Global Supply Chains, such as focusing on transition and building stronger national institutions.

Secondly, it is acknowledged that Global Supply Chains contribute to governance gaps and new regulatory gap needs to be bridged at the international level because cross-border supply chains exacerbate these governance gaps. Currently there are number of initiatives by multinational firms which address these issues such as conducting audit on their suppliers for labour rights issues, but more needs to be done on a sectoral, national, regional and international level. The members called upon ILO to establish a process or body that would assess the nature of the problem and consider what ‘guidance, programs, measures, initiatives or standards are needed to promote decent work and/or facilitate reducing decent work deficits in global supply chains’.

Finally, it is important to note that the premise of ILO is that it rests on national-level enforcement, and from a regulatory standpoint, there has never been an ILO convention that defines transnational responsibilities for governments. Nonetheless, governments are called on to strengthen their labour inspection systems, promote social dialogue and grant fundamental rights to workers. As for businesses, they have been called on to put in place measures that reflect the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, as well as due diligence procedures to promote decent work in their supply chains.

Whether major players from the international business and policy community achieves these targets, the conference is deemed successful for now in putting these participants in conversation with worker groups, activists and scholars. Also, the particular focus which the Global Supply Chain lens provide this conference offers new perspective for viewing the efficacy of ILO programs and standards. It is expected that more research will shed better understanding of the issues while offering a roadmap for action in the future.

To learn more about Global Supply Chain sustainability, decent work for transition to peace, and social protection for a prosperous economic development, please visit:–en/index.htm



By: Sandy Chong Yee Ling