‘We Cannot Burn Our Way to the Future, Consume our Way to Greater Prosperity’, Secretary-General Tells Labour Summit, Urging Sustainable Growth, Development

3 November 2011

‘We Cannot Burn Our Way to the Future, Consume our Way to Greater Prosperity’, Secretary-General Tells Labour Summit, Urging Sustainable Growth, Development

3 November 2011
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

‘We Cannot Burn Our Way to the Future, Consume our Way to Greater Prosperity’,

Secretary-General Tells Labour Summit, Urging Sustainable Growth, Development

Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks to the 2011 Labour Summit, in Cannes, France, 3 November:

Good morning.  It’s a great pleasure to see you.  Let me begin by saying how glad I am to be with you.  Thank you for this invitation and your warm welcome.  Thank you even more for your leadership.

Here together, today, we are at the right place at the right time.  Once again, labour issues are moving up the global agenda.  That’s no accident.  It took advocacy and hard work from all of you.  And it took idealism and energy of your members around the world.

You and the United Nations share the same DNA.  The values and principles that you stand for, every day, are the same as those we stand for, every day:  justice; dignity; human rights, including the right to work; fairness; equity.  More formally, you belong to the United Nations family through the International Labour Organization (ILO).

What that means is simple:  when the United Nations is at the table, you are at the table.  In the wake of the economic crisis in 2008, I was honoured to be the first Secretary-General in many decades to address the tripartite ILO Governing Body.  And through the Global Compact, we ensure that labour is a part of our engagement with the private sector.  I particularly want to recognize and commend Director-General (Juan) Somavía for his outstanding dedication and leadership to the cause of decent work for all.

We come together at a critical moment.  Dark clouds have gathered once again over the global economy.  Some may speak of “recovery”.  Too few actually feel it.  On the contrary, all too many people cannot even see the light at the end of a long, long tunnel.  Unemployment is rising almost everywhere.  More and more young people have no jobs and few prospects of finding one.  Economic inequalities are widening.  Poverty is growing.  That’s why people are marching.  They are anxious, angry and indignant.  They see a world out of balance.

Throughout this year of turmoil and change, I have offered leaders a simple word of advice:  Listen.  Listen to your people.  Listen to their hopes and aspirations.  That is what I have done everywhere I have been.

Nowhere do people say, “Give me charity.”  Nowhere do they say, “Where are my handouts?”  Instead, they say what people told me in Haiti after the earthquake, in North Africa after the Arab Awakening, in places from Kiribati to Bogota.  They say:  “We want jobs.  We want the tools to build our own future.  We want the system to work for all of us.”  At heart, this is a call for human dignity — the dignity and respect that comes from decent work.

Europe’s debt, America’s deficits, the crisis of the rich world:  these dominate the news headlines.  But at this Cannes Summit, there’s more at stake than that.  This Summit must be about more than financial fire-fighting.  It must be about global economic recovery — growth that is sustainable and inclusive.  It must bring real recovery in the real economy.

Too often short-term financial profits have been put ahead of investing in the kind of world we want to live in.  We need to think long-term for a change.  The time has come to write a new social contract for the twenty-first century.  That contract must include a Global Jobs Pact.

We all know that growth is essential.  But we also know that growth does not automatically mean jobs.  We need a job-rich recovery.  Policymakers must make employment a priority, not an afterthought.  The new social contract must also include a social protection floor with stronger safeguards for the poorest and most vulnerable.

Recently, I received a major report from the Social Protection Floor Advisory Group.  I want to thank again Director-General Somavía and the Executive Director of UN Women, Michelle Bachelet.

As we search for solutions to our economic troubles, we must think in terms of investments in our common future — smart investments that will set the foundations for a more sustainable world and more fairly shared prosperity.  Investing in people will generate decent jobs and decent incomes.  Sharing productivity gains more fairly will, in turn, boost purchasing power and global demand.  That virtuous circle is key to building healthy local markets and a healthy world economy.  It is good for business and it is good for people.

A century ago, Henry Ford paid his workers a wage that would allow them to buy the cars they were making.  That was the way to create a mass market and boost profits.  In recent decades, labour’s share of income has fallen.  And the gap between those who work hard and those who reap the greatest rewards continues to grow.

To get out of this mess, we need a revolution in our thinking.  That is my message to the leaders in Cannes.  And I will point to the sorts of investments that make the most sense for the most people.

First, we must invest in sustainable development.  This is our top priority.  And we have a major opportunity ahead.  Almost 20 years ago, the Earth Summit in Rio adopted Agenda 21, an ambitious blueprint for sustainable development.  Next year’s Rio+20 Conference is our chance to define a clear path to a better future — a future of integrated solutions to interrelated problems.  That means new initiatives on food and water security.  It means green investments to advance on renewable energy to stop global warming.

Economic recovery and sustainable development are one and the same fight.  Sustainable energy fuels jobs — jobs that recharge economies, jobs to build infrastructure, above all, jobs to protect the planet and the poorest.  We cannot burn our way to the future.  We cannot consume our way to greater prosperity.  Economic recovery and sustainable development must go hand in hand.  Growth and development must be sustainable.

Second, we must invest in women and youth.  Together, women and young people make up more than two thirds of the global population.  Throughout the world, young people and women are demanding their rights and a greater voice in economic and political life.  We must do all we can to meet their needs and create new opportunities.

Third, we must invest in the most vulnerable.  Leaders must show strong support for the pro-poor, pro-growth agenda embodied in the Millennium Development Goals.  We know what works.  We know what sort of investments yield the biggest proportional gains — in health, food, energy, infrastructure, education and opportunity for all.

Across the arc of the last century, the trade union movement led the way to a more fair and just world.  You helped create our modern era of prosperity.  In the process, you did much more than simply benefit your own members.  You lifted millions out of poverty into a better life.  You proved that the better more of us do, the better all of us do.

At this time of crisis and confusion, discord and division, inequality and injustice — we are all called to moral battle once again.  Let us write a fair and just social contract for the twenty-first century.  Let us listen to our people.  Let us heed their call:  for unity; for solidarity; for social justice — for all.  Thank you very much for your commitment and your leadership.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.