Statement by Mr. José Antonio Ocampo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the Third Committee
New York, 2 October 2006

The United Nations has been taking decisive steps to revitalize its work towards the bold and inclusive vision set out by the 2005 World Summit and the Millennium Declaration. In this process, this Committee bears a crucial responsibility to raise the profile of issues that matter most in the lives of ordinary citizens and their families: opportunities for decent work, the chance to enjoy basic rights and services, and to participate fully in the economic, social, political, and cultural life of their countries.

The orientation of this Committee thus points up one of the UN’s great strengths as an advocate and actor for development. Here, in these halls, and throughout our extensive global network, “development” refers to the progress of developing countries, but also to the development of all societies, rich or poor, through sustainable development in its three dimensions—economic, social, and environmental—and through the realization of economic and social rights. In the UN Development Agenda, crystallized in the Millennium Development Goals, we have not only a vision, but also a roadmap to a better future for all.

To realize this vision fully will require a fundamental shift to ensure a more far-reaching, sustainable, and effective implementation. I am convinced that success in this effort will depend greatly on forging meaningful links between social and economic policies. I would like to devote the bulk of my remarks today to this subject.

Mr. Chairman, consider this staggering statistic, from research undertaken by WIDER of the United Nations University: seven out of eight citizens of the world today live in countries where income distribution has worsened over the past three decades. Rising income inequality within countries has truly become a global pandemic, not only undermining the achievement of the development goals set at the World Social Summit, but also a host of others. We must urgently confront the challenge of making growth equitable and inclusive.

The links between social and economic policies, and between social and economic development, run in both directions. Experience indicates that progress can be made at a faster rate in the area of human development, yet, such social progress is not sufficient for economic success. And it has proven even more difficult to transform economic growth into social progress.

We know indeed that the “inclusiveness” of economic growth—and, thus, of economic globalization—is not an automatic outcome of market forces, and must therefore be ensured through explicit public choices. A first choice is to turn away from the narrow conception of social policies—merely as compensatory mechanisms for adverse social effects generated by economic systems—to effectively integrate social development goals into economic policies.

Some challenges on this front are relatively well understood. For instance, there is now a consensus that macroeconomic instability is harmful for both growth and equity. But I must underscore that “economic stability” and a “sound macroeconomic environment” mean more than low inflation and fiscal balance: they also mean dynamic economic growth and employment and less volatility of these macroeconomic aggregates.

Forging mutually reinforcing links between the social and the economic requires, first of all, active and consistent human development and social inclusion efforts, supported by adequate fiscal resources. The experiences of developing countries show that major advances in human development can be achieved, even at relatively low levels of income. The same is true of the allocation of fiscal resources to social spending, which is, in a significant sense, a policy choice. For example, in my native region, Latin America, some countries assign only 6 per cent of GDP to social spending, while others allocate over 20 per cent. In low income countries, this requires, nonetheless, consistent provision of official development assistance (ODA).

Forging a positive link between economic and social development requires, however, that economic growth results also in positive social outcomes. This has proved troublesome for many reasons, as we pointed out in last year’s Report on the World Social Situation: The Inequality Predicament. Let me mention four:

  • One, as I have already pointed out, growing income inequalities. These involve the growing share of capital income and the bias in the demand for labour towards high skills, which has led to a worsening distribution of labour income between skilled and unskilled workers.
  • Two, inadequate generation of quality employment.
  • Three, the under-utilization of labour, which has exacerbated productivity gaps between different economic agents in developing countries, particularly between formal and informal economic activities.
  • Four, the growing vulnerability to risks inherent in various circumstances, including more competitive environments, the more volatile economic growth environment faced by many developing countries, the underdevelopment of social protection systems in most developing countries, and the difficulties experienced by many social security systems in middle- and high-income countries, which has led to the privatization of risks.

Employment generation is, in fact, the key link between the economic and the social. The capacity of economic growth to generate decent and productive employment, especially for the poorest, is just as important as growth itself. Unfortunately, we are seeing, in every region, inadequate generation of quality employment, even in developing countries experiencing rapid economic growth.

Labour must certainly adapt in the current world environment to persistent technical change and to business cycles. But increased labour market flexibility is only one of the possible instruments to achieve this objective, and often, a sub-optimal one. Building this adaptability will require more emphasis on establishing strong human resource training schemes; strengthening procedures and institutions that enhance social dialogue and cooperation between labour and employers, both at the national level and within firms; implementing prudent minimum wage policies; and securing adequate social protection.

Last July, the High-level Segment of ECOSOC focused on issues of full and productive employment and decent work, including its impact on sustained growth and social development, while the Coordination Segment focused on the related question of translating economic growth into social development, including the eradication of poverty and hunger. The Ministerial Declaration adopted identifies a number of concrete steps for further implementation of the 2005 World Summit commitment to make full and productive employment and decent work for all a central objective of national and international policies. The main message was that employment generation should not be a by-product but the main objective of development strategies. At its next biennial cycle, the Commission for Social Development will carry forward consideration of these critical issues.

Given the existing lack of integration between social and economic policies, as well as the inadequate generation of employment, much attention has recently been focused on providing safety nets in economic crises. My message to you today is that more attention needs to be paid to developing integrated economic and social policies that aim at preventing crises and developing permanent social protection systems. To be effective, these systems must provide for universal coverage based on solidarity principles, and cover basic risks in an integrated way, particularly nutrition, health, ageing, and unemployment. It will, admittedly, take longer to develop such systems in countries where the labour force is largely rural or informal, but this should be the ultimate objective of efforts in this area.

Of course, affordable and appropriate safety nets may be needed to protect populations from the adverse consequences of economic crises and reforms. Yet, these safety nets should not be viewed as a substitute for basic social policies, and their financing during crises should not crowd-out spending on human resources or more permanent schemes of social protection.

Finally, new institutions are required to support the development of integrated policy frameworks that take into account the links among different social policies and between economic and social policies. These integrated frameworks ought to start by designing rules to ensure the “visibility” of the social effects of economic policies and by asking macroeconomic authorities (including independent central banks) to regularly examine the effects of policies on the main social variables (particularly employment and incomes of workers). Similarly, finance ministers should be asked to include analysis of likely distributive effects in any budgetary or tax reform initiative presented to their legislatures. And public entities entrusted with technological, industrial, or agricultural policies ought regularly to evaluate the distributional consequences of their programmes. These exercises must be only considered as starting points for designing efficient coordination systems between economic and social authorities, in which social objectives are effectively mainstreamed into economic policy decision making, that is, into monetary, fiscal, trade, production, and technology policies.

Beyond forging mutually reinforcing links between economic and social policies, reaping the promise of the UN Development Agenda requires that development processes at all levels be participatory and inclusive for all citizens. Social inclusion is indeed one of the three major goals of the World Social Summit, to which this Committee must always look for guidance. This is especially critical for issues involving women, as well as for older persons and youth, indigenous people, and persons with disabilities. Let me start with the last.

Last month, years of complex negotiations culminated in agreement on the text of the first-ever treaty regarding persons with disabilities. The Draft Convention is a novel human rights instrument, with an explicit social development dimension. It reaffirms the human rights of all persons with disabilities and provides up-to-date norms and standards for designing, implementing, and monitoring programmes to improve accessibility, personal mobility, and access to inclusive education, health, and employment.

Given the comprehensive and normative nature of the Convention, you may wish to revisit existing mandates in the field of disability, particularly the 1982 World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons and the 1993 Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities. And you may wish to consider possible adjustments to these mandates and other initiatives in order to ensure effective implementation and reporting.

Recalling the historic Beijing Conference, the 2005 World Summit highlighted the cross-cutting objective of mainstreaming gender issues in all policies and programmes, from the global to the local level and within the UN system itself. It recognized gender mainstreaming as essential to achieving not only gender equality and the advancement of women, but also the entire array of agreed development goals, and to the wider work of the UN for peace and security, development, and human rights.

The Summit also resolved to eliminate all forms of violence against women, which persists globally, despite significant progress in strengthening the international legal and policy framework for addressing it as a violation of human rights. The violence and the impunity with which it is allowed to continue reflect the failure of States to meet their responsibilities for full implementation.

The Secretary-General’s study on violence against women points up this failure. The study shows that violence against women is a widespread and serious problem, affecting countless women. It endangers women’s lives, violates their rights as citizens, and harms families and communities. Any further delay in responding to such violence perpetuates its devastating impact on women, their families, their communities, and humanity itself.

The study puts forward a blueprint for action at the national level and by intergovernmental bodies and the UN system to make measurable progress in preventing and eliminating violence against women. It addresses the gap between international standards and national laws, policies, and practices.

The recommendations in the study should receive your priority attention during this session. In particular, you may wish to consider your leadership role in addressing all forms of violence against women, including new and emerging concerns. You may also wish to guide and encourage other intergovernmental bodies and their subsidiary machinery to enhance their targeted and sector-specific contributions. This could include assessing the institutional support and resources currently devoted to this work and the need to enhance its visibility and strengthen coordination and advocacy at the global and regional levels for the elimination of violence against women.

The United Nations has continued to show leadership on indigenous issues through the continuing support of human rights mechanisms. The adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, an historic aspiration of these peoples, at the first session of the Human Rights Council in June, testifies to this progress. The Declaration provides to all stakeholders a unique new impetus for concrete action in close partnership with indigenous peoples.

Despite progress made, indigenous peoples continue to experience extreme poverty and discrimination in many parts of the world. Our recent efforts to address these challenges include the integration of indigenous issues in the work of the UN system at the country level, through the UN Development Group.

Finally, we are approaching the fifth anniversary of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, in 2007. The Madrid Plan calls for ageing to be linked to development issues and integrated into development targets and agendas. While there is evidence of a more holistic framework emerging, issues related to ageing and older persons remain relatively low on both national and international development agendas. To change this, and to realize the full potential of older persons to contribute to the sustainable development of their communities, we must redouble efforts to mainstream ageing issues into national development frameworks, including poverty reduction strategies, and to build appropriate capacities, including engagement of older persons in decision making processes. In preparation for this celebration, we have placed the issue of aging and development at the centre of our activities.

The worrying gaps we have seen in implementation across various aspects of the UN Development Agenda require stronger institutions and more integrated policy frameworks at all levels, including within the UN system. In this regard, we look forward to the recommendations of the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on UN System-wide Coherence.

Meanwhile, we also look to you, in this Third Committee, and to your counterparts in the Second Committee, to do what you can to help bring about a much more coherent consideration of economic and social issues—one that maximizes your individual contributions to effective implementation of the development goals.

Allow me, finally, Mr. Chairman, to express our hope that, under your leadership and that of the Bureau, this session will make great strides in meeting its complex responsibilities and reviving harmonious and mutually beneficial partnerships. Let me assure you of our fullest cooperation and assistance to your work.