October 2016

Jeremiah J. Baronberg

In September, heads of state and leaders from around the world came together for the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York, intent on addressing an impressive agenda of international concerns. The body is also set to elect its next Secretary General from among a diverse slate of potential candidates

Concerns for the basic human rights of workers and inclusive economic growth for societies around the world were high on the agenda at this year’s gathering. The International Labour Organization (ILO) – together with the Prime Minister of Sweden Stefan Löfven and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development – announced the launch of a new partnership, The Global Deal Initiative, aimed at addressing challenges in the global labor market and enabling more of the world’s population to benefit from the advances brought by globalization.

Click here to watch ILO Director-General Guy Ryder speak about The Global Deal Initiative.

The Global Deal was designed with the UN’s sustainable development goals (“SDG”) in mind, especially SDG-8 on “Decent Work & Economic Growth.” But what is most innovative about the initiative is its multi-stakeholder platform approach: by bringing together governments, businesses, and unions, it holds the promise of a much-needed holistic understanding of the complex linkages between markets, globalization, and workforces.

While not an organization itself, the Global Deal will serve as a platform to provide political direction, scale existing processes, and highlight opportunities for cooperation. For example, the Global Deal will encourage an ethic of cooperation and collaboration among its partners, which now include governments such as Austria, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Canada, and Tunisia; global companies and employer organizations such as H&M and The B Team; and trade unions such as the International Trade Union Confederation.

Each has committed to engage in various forms of “social dialogue” – such as transparent communication, negotiation, consultation, and information exchange – to promote joint solutions aimed at reducing inequalities, increasing productivity, and enhancing long-term opportunity, security, and development. These models for interaction that are rooted in mutual respect and trust have been shown to build social cohesion by helping employees and employers negotiate cooperatively about rights and obligations, labor conditions and wages, and to resolve disputes peacefully.

In many industries, for example, the majority of managerial and leadership positions are held by men. In the textile and apparel industries, over 70 percent of women hold lower-level positions, including sewing and cutting clothing. The Global Deal will not only empower women but also enhance their opportunity for upward mobility in the workforce. This is critical to achieving gender equality in the global labor market.

By supporting such innovative cross-sector initiatives and ensuring that the different players involved are engaging together constructively, the Global Deal initiative can help reduce economic disparities while advancing growth and productivity, in turn benefiting society at large. Inspiring examples found in places such as Angola, Cambodia, and Chile, among others, showcase how new found problem-solving skills are creating empowered workers and translating far beyond the workplace itself and into families, communities, and societies.

Shifts in the global labor market and workforce due to globalization and technological innovation are an unavoidable fact of our increasingly interdependent world. But where social, human rights, and business perspectives have too often been seen as being in competition, the Global Deal initiative offers an alternative and unique win-win approach.

In this way, it is a promising milestone in the ongoing effort to improve lives and jobs and to ensure economic opportunity and prosperity for future generations and societies to come.