UN labour agency chief calls for ‘new era of social justice’

Director-General Juan Somavia addresses ILO 100th conference in Geneva

1 June 2011 – The head of the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) today called for “a new era of social justice” in face of unemployment, unfair globalization, turmoil in the workplace and extreme differences between rich and poor.

Speaking before the organization’s 100th conference in Geneva, Director-General Juan Somavia said: “Our world of work is in turmoil. It is urgent to commit to a new era of social justice, of growth with social justice based on sustainable development.”

Mr. Somavia said “the world of work was facing multiple crises, including an unacceptably high level of youth employment, stagnant levels of world investment in the real economy, marginalization of job-creating small enterprises, and ‘indecent levels’ of income and wealth concentration,” according to a statement released by the ILO.

“We have in front of us the bigger danger of further consolidating inefficient growth patterns and unfair globalization rules that were at the root of the crisis, and that have systematically increased inequality almost everywhere in the last 30 years,” Mr. Somavia said.

“No wonder people are upset and angry. Too many feel squeezed – including the middle classes between the immediate social impact of the crisis and these long-term trends.”

Mr. Somavia said that people were also angry over the perception that it seems some financial institutions are regarded as “‘too big to fail”’ while many people are seen as “too small to matter.”

“From Tahrir Square [in Cairo] to Puerta del Sol [in Madrid], in streets and plazas in many countries, we are witnessing the birth of a social and popular movement led by youth that may change the world,” he said. “And let us not forget that as we speak, the daring and courageous commitment of the Arab world and beyond is giving us a powerful message: that real change today demands widespread peaceful social and popular mobilization that can project the voice and demands of people into the heart of political decision-making.

“We must also hear them. Let us be as bold and ambitious as our forebears have been.”

He told some 3,000 government, employer and worker delegates “whether a new era of social justice remains just an idealized vision of a desired future, or becomes a practical reality that takes hold in our societies, will depend in many ways on you, on us, on the ILO family.”

Mr. Somavia’s speech echoed remarks made by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in February to mark the World Day of Social Justice.

“Social justice is more than an ethical imperative; it is a foundation for national stability and global prosperity,” he said. “Equal opportunity, solidarity and respect for human rights, these are essential to unlocking the full productive potential of nations and peoples.”

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