On January 28, 2021, the question posed to the panelists centered around best practices to address international labour and economic rights issues in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 1: no poverty, SDG 2: zero hunger, SDG 8: decent work and economic growth, and SDG 10: reduced inequalities.
The event began with an image of an individual worker in Vietnam, whose life had been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. Beate Andrees, Special Representative to the United Nations (UN) and Director of the International Labour Office (ILO) Office for the UN, and Matthieu Cognac, ILO Senior Multilateral Cooperation Specialist, reminded the audience that the global effect of COVID could not be overstated, with at least 255 million jobs lost, an 8.3% decline in global labour income, and a 436 million enterprise loss in the hardest-hit sectors. ILO has been charged with financing the pandemic’s socio-economic recovery efforts. For a normative organization like the ILO, the question is always how it can best support the most vulnerable individuals, who have been disproportionately impacted by economic stress wrought by the pandemic. Their presentation raised three key issues: (1) the lack of financial support for social policies; (2) inconsistent policy application; and (3) the lack of agency by the most vulnerable populations. ILO is wielding its financial clout to reach more affected groups, ensure that individuals’ fundamental rights are protected, and that they are given a voice.
Lisa Kurbiel, Head of the UN Joint SDG Fund Secretariat, continued the discussion by providing examples of how SDG funding mechanisms could create and expand social policies in developing countries, where weak institutions and loose safety nets are prone to breaking. In response to the high rates of youth unemployment in Ecuador, the UN's Acceleration Lab granted 28 scholarships to youth representatives to develop data visualization skills, build research networks, and empower their communities. In Somalia, the SDG Fund funded the Ministry and Labour and Social Affairs’ social worker trainings, thereby raising the profile of mental health in workplace wellness. Stories of success from their capacity-strengthening programs will continue to inspire future success.
From a domestic perspective, Tanya Blocker, the Employment and Labour Group Assistant General Counsel for National Grid, spoke to the importance of measurable outcomes and strategies on how to address pay equity and Title VII issues. National Grid’s commitment to 50% diversity in their C-Suite and new talent acquisition by 2025 is an ambitious and worthwhile objective that aligns with the SDG goals.
With authority and passion, the speakers emphasized that this seemingly impossible task is possible - provided the private, public, and governmental sectors work hand-in-hand towards these common goals of decent work, economic growth, and reducing inequality.