Plenary meeting address
Kris De Meester
Employer delegate Belgium

The 19th hole

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues. Last year when addressing this plenary I talked in golf terms about bogey and birdie meaning a substandard ILO contribution to decent work in sustainable enterprises or an outstanding approach. When Director-Generals Guy Ryder came to our employers’ group meeting he said there was no excuse to not read his 19-page report. I did read it and I will give you my 19 point analysis.

1. New opportunity

The 2030 Agenda indeed offers opportunities to create conditions for sustainable, inclusive and sustained economic growth, shared prosperity and decent work for all. But…

There is a saying and it goes like this: “Opportunity dances with those already on the dance floor.” This is about expertise and relevance. As long as the ILO fails to prove its expertise and added value on a number of subjects such as global supply chains, sustainable enterprise, SME’s, they will not lead on the dance floor. ILO might even not be dancing at all…

2. Coherence

This is about greater functional and substantive policy coherence in the international system. The fact that the word coherence still occurs in every report is the proof that there is a huge gap between theory and practice.

3. National strategies

The most concrete demonstration of national appropriation of the 2030 Agenda by member States will be the progress that they make in formulating, and then implementing, national 2030 strategies. A tailored approach based on the constituents’ needs and adapted to national circumstances is also needed. The focus of the Office should be around ILO action to help constituents.

4. Horizontal approach

It is important to not only allow for full tripartite input into national 2030 strategies. It should also be a “whole of government” exercise.

5. Decent work dimension

The promotion of sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all stands at the heart of the 2030 Agenda. Why is it than that so few of the existing ILO activities and programs are targeted at actual job creation? What’s the use of caring for a body that has no heart?

6. Decent work country programs

What will be really critical is the ability of the Decent Work Country Programs teams to advise and support the constituents at the national level, while working effectively with the rest of the UN development system.

7. Fighting poverty and inequality

The report states that our world of work and our labor markets are generating poverty. That is a strange statement because all evidence and experiences show that the main driver to the reduction of poverty is job creation and economic growth. It is doubtful that universal minimum incomes or living wages can be useful tools to reduce poverty. The ILO has to recognize that the economic dimension of policies to reduce poverty should be at the core.

8. Analysis

Rigorous and independent analysis is required for a full understanding of the poverty-elimination potential. There remains a serious necessity to do more systematic impact assessments of measures that have worked and measures that have not, in order to draw practical lessons for the future.

9. Achieving transformation

As attention now turns to the task of implementing the 2030 Agenda, one challenge is that of convincing member States and the ILO’s tripartite constituency of its relevance and importance. Now to convince people to your ideas and beleifs, you’ve got to sell it to yourself first, balanced and in all its dimensions.

10. Implementation and financing

The 2030 Agenda provides a strong and explicit recognition of private sector and private investment as key drivers of productivity, growth, jobs, and hence sustainable development and reduction of poverty. The impact of purely public action to reduce poverty is limited. Therefore the ILO needs to align with the Agenda and must efficiently work on public-private partnerships (through employers’ organizations) as a way to reduce poverty.

11. Transition form war to peace

We cannot stress the importance of this enough. Peace is more than the absence of war. It’s a virtue, a state of mind, and a disposition for prosperity, justice and decent work.

12. Global supply chains

I was hoping for the global supply chains discussion to be a contributory element in the whole pursuit of the 2030 Agenda. What a disappointment…
A biased report and biased officers leading the discussion. It is clear from this years discussion that the ILO is not a centre of competence when it comes to global supply chains and it will probably never be. ILO’s approach and vision are based on partial knowledge of how the ready made garment sector works, lacking to see that global supply chains are already evolving towards value webs. Sure they come with deficiencies but above all they offer an opportunity and leverage to improve working conditions worldwide.

13. Future of work

Guy Ryder said: “To get the future of work that we all want, the ILO and its constituents must be the architects”. Well, we are too late. A bunch of architects have already done their work and will continue to do so. The future of work is already out there. We just don’t see as it is or we pretend not seeing it because we don’t like the direction it has taken. Either way, we are going to miss out on it if we don’t climb out of our silos or if we continue to look at it from a tunnel vision perspective that is the reflection of how we did things in the past.

14. Role of private sector

The report highlights that the 2030 Agenda calls upon businesses of all types to apply their creativity and innovation to solving sustainable development challenges. It commits to fostering a dynamic business sector. Why don’t we start to walk the talk than?
The ILO must understand and take into account the linkages between employment policies and programs, and the environment for doing business. This linkage is absent in much ILO action, in its research and publications.

15. Indicators to measure progress

Some of the proposed indicators to measure progress are disputable or inappropriate. The ILO needs to update and involve its constituents in this process before a final decision is taken.

16. Ownership

The report rightfully advocates for the ownership and involvement of the constituents in the building of the national 2030 strategies backed up by appropriate international action. No ownership without genuine partnership!

17. Partnership

We now that in this house it takes 3 to tango. But if discussions about facts are decided by people saying “if it makes you happy we will accept your proposal” than you have a huge mentality and credibility problem. It is an insult. The words tripartism and social dialogue are flying around but sorry to say, better not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do. When officers of the house act openly against you as a group it would be wiser to keep silent. What have you achieved when a representative of a global private sector player that embraces and pursues the decent work agenda says: “I will never set a foot in this house again”!

18. Turning the tide

What is at stake makes the implementation of the 2030 Agenda everybody’s business. So please take my words about partnership and ownership serious. Don’t let things escalate. There is still time to turn the tide!


Does all this sound a bit negative to you? Well, you’re right. The real deficit gap is that between ILO’s words on tripartism and ILO practice. In golf, the 19th hole is the cafeteria. Maybe we need more genuine talk and dialogue outside of meeting rooms to build or rebuild respect and trust so that we can all join forces in the pursuit of the 2030 agenda and end poverty for all.


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