Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the Civil Society Forum
New York, 5 February 2008

Madam Chair,

Mr. Chairman,

Ladies and gentlemen,

My first day on the job, last summer, I participated in the Civil Society Development Forum, in Geneva. I am delighted to begin my first season of functional commission sessions with this Civil Society Forum, on “Decent Work for a Decent Life”.

Creating full and productive employment and decent work is one of the three pillars of social development, set out at the World Social Summit in Copenhagen. Its great potential to bring us closer to achieving the two other pillars – poverty eradication and social integration – is increasingly recognized.

Adequately remunerated and productive jobs can indeed lift people out of poverty and integrate them into the mainstream of society.

Promotion of employment and decent work has taken on renewed prominence in policy making in recent years, especially since the 2005 World Summit. We often hear that this objective must be placed at the centre of economic and social policy making.

However, this heightened awareness has not yet brought about the change in the world that is so desperately needed. What we see, instead, is the continuation of some worrisome trends.

Despite global increases in economic growth, employment creation lags behind growth for the working-age population. For the past decade, global output expanded by 3.8 percent per year, yet unemployment rates did not change, staying at around 6 percent.

There are around 200 million unemployed in the world. But this only illustrates part of the problem. Among those working, a total of over 1.4 billion worldwide do not earn enough to lift themselves above the $2-a-day poverty line.

The Commission for Social Development chose productive employment and decent work as the priority theme for its first two-year implementation cycle. This confirms the gravity of the global employment situation and its importance for development prospects. It also testifies to the commitment of Member States to advance the decent work agenda in their respective countries and regions.

In this second year, the policy session, the Commission will focus on policy options and practical measures to bring us closer to the goal of full and productive employment and decent work – as an integral part of the broader UN Development Agenda, including the Millennium Development Goals.

From the very beginning, civil society has played a critical role in formulating that agenda, which has its origins in the major UN conferences and summits. The effective cooperation between civil society and the UN, especially our Department of Economic and Social Affairs, was vital to the success of those conferences – and to the value of their outcomes.

Today, we are concentrating our energy on the real value-added, which can only come with implementation and concrete progress toward the internationally agreed development goals.

You, the civil society, working in partnership with governments, the United Nations and others, can play a constructive role in promoting creative policy responses to promote employment and decent work.

You can engage with governments to help design national development strategies that promote decent work.

You can assist local authorities, communities and institutions in coming up with practical and effective ways to implement and monitor such strategies.

And you can continue to play your indispensable role in holding all partners accountable for making progress and keeping their commitments.

No doubt, civil society should also highlight the obstacles and challenges to implementing the decent work agenda, such as the current labour market challenges of increasing informalization and rising economic insecurity.

I can assure you that my Department takes very seriously the concerns raised by the NGO community, highlighting them in our reports and bringing them to the attention of governments.

While there is no easy solution to these challenges, we have, in the Commission for Social Development, a forum for generating policy options to meet these challenges and to advance the decent work agenda in a holistic way.

This Civil Society Forum demonstrates your dedication to strengthening the cooperation between the United Nations and the NGO community for the achievement of the development goals and a “society for all”.

The Forum will address specific policies for creating an enabling environment for full employment and decent work. You will further discuss partnerships to realize that goal. Both matters are of great interest to DESA and to all Member States.

The implementation of the decent work for a decent life agenda requires concerted action by all major stakeholders. I look forward to the presentation of your Declaration at the Commission tomorrow. I am confident that it will influence the Commission’s discussion and enrich its outcome.

Thank you.