Mr. Hjálmar W. Hannesson
Permanent Representative of Iceland
to the United Nations
of the Economic and Social Council
“Creating an environment at the national and international levels conducive to generating full and productive employment and decent work for all, and its impact on sustainable development”
Address by Hjálmar W. Hannesson
Permanent Representative of Iceland to the UN in New York
Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen
The theme of this high-level segment is well chosen. The Summit outcome document sets us a great many challenging tasks in facing up to threats to our security.
These major threats to our security from terrorism and poverty to disease and environmental degradation require a broad range of solutions. One key tool that we have is to harness the energy and motivation of individuals everywhere to participate fully and actively in their economies. A decent job constitutes a stake in society and thus a strong incentive to work for stability - sustainability follows.
At present we are failing to harness this power. There are close to 200 million unemployed people in the world – in other words people who do not have the opportunity to participate in the economies of their respective communities. Consequently their possibilities to contribute either as producers or as consumers are severely limited.
The fact that some 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty with over 850 million undernourished indicates that employment by itself is not a solution to poverty. As has been pointed out, large scale underemployment or employment in low-grade, low-paid jobs constitute a major problem. Jobs which pay so poorly that people remain below the poverty line do little to give people a stake or contribute to stability.
Furthermore, populations living in such conditions are less likely to be able to take account of environmental concerns. Thus there is also an impact on environmental sustainability.
The impact of the exclusion of such a large number of people from effective participation in society is especially serious on social stability. In particular, as so pointedly stated here Monday by the Deputy Secretary-General of the UN and yesterday by Ambassador Fust from Switzerland, the growing youth unemployment in the world is one of the most serious future global challenges of our times. We must furthermore, as the Prime Minister of Pakistan said Monday, the Director General of ILO echoed and the Prime Minister of Norway described in detail, empower women to become a greater part of a continuous global employment reform process. We wholeheartedly endorse the Prime Minster of Norway’s statement that empowering women increases a country’s competitive advantage, as the five Nordic States have demonstrated.
It is worth remembering that small island states face particular problems in fostering an environment conducive to productive employment. Small island states tend to have greater costs in reaching markets and often have narrowly based economies. Employment is often seasonal or dependent on one or two sectors.
The quality of the investment climate is a key prerequisite for increased private sector development, which in turn generates growth and creates employment opportunities for the poor. In this regard the importance of small and medium sized enterprises should be given particular attention. Such enterprises can, however, only thrive where there is rule of law, particularly of the law of property, and where investment and financial dealings are secure. While we are encouraged by the very practical and imaginative work being done on property rights and their relationship to sustainable development, we remain concerned that progress on reforming the investment climate in many developing countries is too slow.
Strengthening access to infrastructure is another important prerequisite for private sector development and creation of jobs. Here, we wish to highlight the acute lack of access to energy in many low income countries. We must explore ways to help developing countries enhance their access to affordable, sustainable and reliable modern energy services over the long term, while paying attention to local and global environmental considerations. It is important that developing countries work to attract domestic and international investment in clean and efficient energy services.
The opportunities which globalisation provides for increasing employment are considerable – however, a prerequisite for capitalising on these opportunities for sustainable and high quality employment is education. It is clear that a number of developing economies have done extremely well out of the globalisation of technology precisely because they have been equipped with well-educated work forces.
The less desirable effect of globalisation has been the suppression of wages – very low wages in developing countries or in some industrial economies where human trafficking has contributed to the number of people in very low-paid employment.
Three quarters of the 1.2 billion people who live in extreme poverty live in rural areas of developing countries. This group must be a focus of action on employment. Given that it is certainly not sustainable to encourage migration of these populations into cities, their existence in rural areas must be made sustainable. Ensuring sustainable agriculture means poverty reduction strategies that are specifically focused on the rural poor. It also means that the international community must ensure that trade environments are not hostile to sustainability of production and therefore employment in these areas.
Mr. Chairman, there is no simple recipe for creating an employment friendly environment. However, the recipe will need to include an improved investment climate for private sector development, fair trade, infrastructure development, access to energy and education, and a clear and secure legal environment.