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Two UN bodies seek social protection for 4bn people

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By Victor Ahiuma-Young

GENEVA – The Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Guy Ryder, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, have called for world leaders to support social security and assistance programmes worldwide, saying they are critical to achieving the goals of the UN’s global development agenda.

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Social protection programmes must be ready to reach an additional four billion people by the year 2030, the target date for the  UN’s Sustainable Development Agenda    and its 17 Goals, they said.

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Speaking to more than 100 top government officials, business representatives, trade unionists and others, at the third meeting of the Multi-Stakeholder Partnership aiming at achieving Sustainable Development Goal 1.3 on Social Protection, Ryder said that greater efforts would be required at all levels. “Closing the social protection gap is at the heart of the ILO’s commitment to achieving social justice,” he said. “I know you all are present here today because you – and the institutions you represent – are also called to act.”

Bachelet added that such programmes were critical, both to support human rights and to ensure that development work has a lasting impact. “We are beginning to accept that there are no shortcuts to true development and that well-being can only be achieved through investment in people, without exception,” she said. “Investing in people is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do.”

Their call for action asks countries to secure and responsibly manage public resources for social protection, and to promote dialogue to increase the coverage of public pensions, health care, family allowances, unemployment and maternity benefits and other programmes. The ILO estimates that only 45 per cent of the global population currently has access to social protection.

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The ILO, whose international labour Conventions set minimum standards and other guidelines for social protection coverage, has been leading efforts to expand benefits through its  Global Flagship Programme on Building Social Protection Floors for All  , which started in 2016. The ILO is also the responsible specialized UN agency for monitoring progress toward the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 1.3 on the extension of social protection, which is recorded in the  World Social Protection Report    and database.

ILO Deputy Director-General for Policy, Deborah Greenfield, outlined the Programme’s approach which focuses on both social insurance into which workers and employers make payments, and social assistance which is financed from state budgets. So far the Programme has supported new or improved benefits for more than 12 million individuals in countries including Cambodia, Cameroon, Indonesia, Mozambique and Zambia.

“These are not pilot programmes with an expiration date. These are not donor-funded benefits that will disappear after a project stops,” Greenfield said. “These are nationally-owned and domestically financed programmes operated by reinforced state institutions, made possible with the collective support from many of you gathered in this room.”

The meeting was organized to encourage discussions between supporters of the Multi-Stakeholder Partnership. The Partnership brings together supporters of the ILO’s Global Flagship Programme, including many companies who make up the Global Business Network for Social Protection Floors. Members of the Global Business Network met separately to discuss how business can contribute to the UN agenda and support social protection through their human resources and corporate social responsibility policies.

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The Programme is also supported by national and global trade unions through the Social Protection, Freedom and Justice for Workers Network. Trade Union representatives discussed strategies for advocating for adequate and sustainable social protection and securing international development finance to support social protection systems worldwide.

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