3 June 2011 - General Assembly - Social priorities of the French presidency of the G20 - Statement by Mr. Xavier Bertrand, Minister for Labor, Employment and Health
I would firstly like to thank you for this invitation to come and speak to you at this forum because I know that you’ve strived throughout your presidency to encourage dialogue between the G20 and the United Nations and we’re very grateful to you for that.
President Nicolas Sarkozy clearly hoped that the French presidency of the G20 would be linked as closely as possible to the UN and its Secretary-General. This is a fundamental point. The G20 cannot and must not take the place of other international organizations. Without the UN, its agencies, its funds and its programs, we would deprive ourselves of valuable expertise and an essential universality of views.
That’s why I wanted to join you today.
As you know, President Sarkozy decided to include social issues on the agenda of the French presidency of the G20.
By placing social issues at the heart of global thinking we want to learn from the crisis of unprecedented scale that we’ve just experienced.
As we’re all aware, this crisis has had tragic social consequences all over the world. I don’t think there’s a single country that can say that it’s been spared the social consequences of this crisis. The crisis was triggered by financial imbalances, it then spread to the real economy and had a devastating impact on the labor markets: in less than 2 years, the number of unemployed people increased by 30 million, with young people often the first to be affected, as well as the long-term unemployed, who were already having difficulty finding work before this crisis took place.
As we know, this crisis isn’t just a setback. It must also act as an indicator. It’s a crisis linked to globalization, which, if it’s thrown off balance, if it’s not regulated, is not viable over the long term.
Let me be clear; I think that globalization means progress, globalization means the creation of wealth, it means a significant reduction in poverty in many countries and it also means access to education and healthcare. The Millennium Development Goals that you adopted reflect this aspiration for progress.
But globalization won’t be accepted by our fellow citizens if it leads to increasing inequalities, if it leads to unemployment, to despair. Globalization won’t be accepted if millions of workers around the world don’t have any social protection. Globalization won’t be accepted if, as it seems, the gap in per capita GDP between the billion poorest people and the billion richest people almost doubled between 2000 and 2007. Globalization won’t be accepted if the poorest people can only hope to live to 51 while the richest can hope to live to 80 - thirty more years.
That’s why we can no longer be satisfied with regulating globalization purely at the financial level, or even at the economic level. We must also regulate the social aspects of globalization.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the responsibility of the governments that will meet around the G20 table, and more generally, the responsibility of all of us, is very great: I want to stress this, it’s not just the G20’s responsibility, it’s the responsibility of the entire international community within the United Nations, it’s a collective responsibility, a global responsibility.
What the citizens of our countries are expecting, as President Sarkozy reaffirmed to the International Labour Conference in June 2009, is that globalization cannot and must not be the law of the jungle, it shouldn’t just focus on financial capital and contribute nothing to labor issues, it must allow economic growth and social progress at the same time.
We shouldn’t have to choose one or the other, we shouldn’t have to trade one for the other, we need both, since they’re interdependent, and, moreover, I think that the two reinforce each other. That’s also how we can avoid protectionism and isolation, that’s also how we can pave the way for a more solid, more equitable and sustainable globalization.
In view of this crisis which shook all of our societies, in view of the concerns and anxiety shaping global public opinion, we must not content ourselves with promoting our good intentions, we must respond in a calm, clear and credible manner.
We want to respond within the framework of the G20’s work, with the entire international community. The G20 represents 85% of global GDP and 2/3 of the population; that doesn’t in any way mean that it has any special rights but it does mean that it has responsibilities. It has a role to play; it can have a spillover effect in terms of making proposals and providing the necessary impetus.
But in order to move from impetus to action, we need the involvement of all countries and international institutions. The latter, as we know, have already incorporated the social challenges into their priorities: the UN of course, notably thanks to UNICEF and the UNDP. I’m also thinking of the International Labour Organization (ILO), in Geneva, which has established strong guidelines involving all its members; I’m thinking of the 2008 "Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization" and the 2009 "Global Jobs Pact."
And I don’t want to forget the World Bank which will soon adopt a "Social Protection Strategy," and which has already taken this social dimension into account in its actions on the ground. Today, 12% of its loans are devoted to social protection, a level four times higher than before the crisis.
The same goes for the IMF which, since the crisis, has supported several programs aimed at maintaining social expenditure in these countries, at the same time as ensuring that they take into account the necessary viability of public finances. Moreover, the cooperation of the secretariats of the WTO and the ILO constitutes a positive factor.
Ladies and Gentlemen, a process is currently under way. The G20 Heads of State and Government Summit in Pittsburgh in September 2009 and the Labor and Employment Ministers Summit in Washington in April 2010 enabled us to lay solid foundations. France proposes continuing this process with all those who are convinced that we must go further.
I’d like to go back over with you the four priorities of the French presidency of the G20 with respect to social issues.
The first goal of the French presidency of the G20 is employment. This obviously relates to the employment of young people, the employment of the most vulnerable.
I’m well aware that the situation in the labor market varies from one country to another. But I think that the similarities will grow. I think it’s important for us to be able to share common goals with respect to employment, even if, in order to achieve these goals, each country chooses the path that best suits it. Each country has its history, its political, economic and social realities. One thing is certain, our fellow citizens are talking to us about employment and it’s very often the first thing they talk about.
Within the framework of the G20, we therefore want to pay particular attention to the employment of young people and to the most vulnerable. Just now I focused attention on the long-term unemployed; I don’t think we can leave them - if we don’t do anything - to suffer long-term exclusion. I also think that providing jobs to young people is a concern that we all share. Our young people won’t be satisfied with talking about employment; finding your first job is as difficult as ever, finding your first place to live is just as difficult. With respect to all of these issues, this challenge is a priority.
In order to implement this priority, I also have confidence in the role of social partners, since we want to initiate high-quality social dialogue, at the national as well as international level.
That’s why we were interested to hear the proposal made by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC): as we explained to Mrs. Burrow, we believe it’s important to establish a working group tasked with monitoring the G20’s work with respect to employment. This initiative would allow us to formally bring the social partners together. We want this ambitious idea - which is becoming an ambitious project - to now become a reality that’s equally as ambitious. And we want to work on this issue in close cooperation with Mexico which will hold the next presidency of the G20.
I would now like to speak about another objective: the development of a social protection floor (SPF) at the international level.
Right now, eight out of 10 people in the world have no access to a complete social protection scheme. Eight out of 10!
Social protection is a basic human right: It means access to health care; it means guaranteed income for the elderly or the handicapped, the unemployed or workers below the poverty line; it also means family allocations. It means all the forms of assistance that make it possible to face the accidents of life.
Social protection is a right, but let’s not forget that it’s also a growth factor. And it also plays the role of a shock absorber, especially in crises such as the one we’ve just experienced.
I am well aware of the fact that social protection schemes vary by country, because the needs of our people are not the same. In countries with aging populations, as is the case in Europe, building a sustainable retirement system is an urgent need. On the other hand, in many developing countries, the number-one social right is access to drinkable water.
That’s why we don’t want to create the same model everywhere; that would be absurd. What does make sense, however, is urging all countries to adopt systems tailored to their own economic and social situations. That means that we must expand social protection to those who have none, improve it in countries where it already exists, and make it economically sustainable, while respecting the sovereignty of each nation.
The UN has a central role to play in developing this social protection floor. In speaking before you today, I want to emphasize that such an initiative was in fact one of the proposals adopted by the UN Council of Secretariat Heads in April 2009 to face the crisis.
The United Nations Development Programme plays an important role. I am thinking of UNDP associate administrator Rebeca Grynspan’s remarks on the social protection floor during the Paris meeting on May 23 to prepare the G20. She expressed her full support for it.
We are not starting from scratch: Various countries have already taken initiatives to develop social protection. But together, we can go farther. The work by the SPF High-Level Advisory Group chaired by Mme Bachelet, scheduled to give us its report this summer, will obviously be very useful, and I want to pay tribute to the quality of its work.
The third objective of the French G20 presidency is promoting respect for social rights and work.
We cannot create lasting social and economic growth if we forget about workers’ essential rights. You can’t have growth on one hand and social justice on the other; in the long run, that isn’t tenable.
Promoting social justice and making work a means of accomplishment, not of enslavement, has been the goal of the International Labour Organization from the outset. Our proposals are designed to support its efforts. That’s why France wanted the ILO’s director-general, Mr. Somavia, to take part in the G20 summits.
It’s not simply a matter of ratifying ILO agreements. More broadly, what counts is the effective, universal implementation of fundamental rights and principles, as well as social and labor legislation at the national level.
I think we all understand what this covers: salaries, health and job security, child labor, equal access to the job market regardless of gender, working hours and mechanisms of social dialogue.
I am well aware of the fact that not every detail of our labor laws can be harmonized, but we can work to promote the notion of the "decent job" as highlighted by the ILO. Because the right to a decent job is the right to a job of acceptable quality, a job in which one’s rights are protected and which provides sufficient income with social coverage.
Concretely, how can we do this?
We must think about how to better integrate the respect for fundamental principles and rights at work in the internal procedures of institutions—such as regional development banks—acting on the ground.
We must also facilitate the enforcement of these principles on the ground through technical assistance programs such as the Better Work Programme, based on a partnership between the ILO and the International Finance Corporation (IFC).
The respect of fundamental labor rights does not concern only States and international organizations. To the contrary, all actors involved in labor issues must mobilize.
The question of the fundamental principles and rights at work also concerns businesses, for example in their relationships with their subcontractors. Many businesses have of course understood the importance of the stakes, along with social and environmental responsibility. But we can certainly go farther.
That’s why the French G20 presidency promoted the idea that we can consider the commitment of all economic and social actors, not just that of States, to ensuring the proper implementation of social rights at work.
Our fourth objective is to improve coordination among the various international organizations.
This coordination is essential to bolstering consistency among social policies on one hand and economic, financial and development policies on the other. We want the international organizations to better coordinate their actions, notably through cross-observation.
The ILO and WTO have expressed the wish to work together even more than they do already. That is an important sign of cooperation for all the international organizations. It is also significant that Angel Gurria and Juan Somavia have signed a new cooperation agreement between the OECD and the ILO. We have also approached the IMF and the World Bank, and we are counting on the UNPD to play a coordinating role, as I’ve said.
These, then, are the four priorities of this G20 with respect to social issues: the social protection floor, jobs, the promotion of social and labor rights, and the need for consistency.
I would like to conclude by reminding you of our timetable and our method.
Our next big date will be June 14, when there will be an informal meeting of the G20 ministers at the International Labour Conference in Geneva. That important step will enable us to work on the recommendations that could be formulated by the G20 labor and employment ministers next September, and then at the Cannes Summit.
There will be meetings at other levels, such as the Business Leaders Summit, which the French presidency supports. Unions have also brought up the idea of a social summit, and we are ready to support that initiative.
As for our working method: As I said, we must reflect together and work together in order to move ahead together. That is why, as it prepares the ministerial G20 jobs meeting, France wanted to involve all of its G20 partners and those outside the G20: Spain, a permanent guest, as well as Ethiopia, the United Arab Emirates, Equatorial Guinea and Singapore.
In the social arena, it held meetings on the social protection floor in Brasilia for several days this past May in close collaboration with the ILO. It is also helping to prepare a meeting on jobs to be held in Argentina in July.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
By revealing the very serious consequences of globalization without rules or safeguards, the crisis issued us a challenge. We cannot act as though everything can continue as before. We must live up to the events and expectations of our citizens.
By adding a social dimension to the regulation of globalization, we are choosing responsibility and solidarity, so that globalization benefits all while respecting the rights of all.
This is not only the ambition of the G20, it concerns all of us as members of the international community. The main thing is to unite everyone’s goodwill, without dogmatism or preconceptions.
I am convinced that the exchanges carried out in this forum will contribute to the implementation of that objective. I will be interested in hearing your comments, remarks and suggestions, and I pledge to relay them to my G20 counterparts. It is my feeling that since the beginning of this presidency, all the contacts we’ve made and questions that have been asked in the wake of the unprecedented crisis quite simply boil down to this: What world do we want to live in? In what world do we want our children to grow up? As for the message of our fellow citizens, it is simple: Make this world better.