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ILO’s Global Flagship Programme on Building Social Protection Floors for All

Third Meeting of the Multi-Stakeholder Partnership for SDG 1.3

Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet

24 October 2018


Friends and colleagues,

It’s a great pleasure to be with you this morning. I welcome this opportunity to join together to celebrate our progress on SDG 1.3 and to find new ways of taking our work even further forward.

This global gathering of stakeholders is part of the process of the delivery of the 2030 Agenda – goal by goal, country by country, community by community, until we are quite sure that no one has been left behind.

All of us here today share a unity of purpose.  We all want to see a world where all children and all adults have their basic needs met; where unemployment, injury, ill-health, old age or disability do not signal misery and hardship; where people are not left unprotected in times of crisis and disaster.

We also share a common and very practical belief in how that vision can be made reality: social protection floors, laid on a firm foundation of human rights standards and principles. These are capable of delivering the change we yearn to see.

So, how do we create the right conditions for social protection to sustain human dignity everywhere?

First, we must acknowledge the reality.  71% of the world’s population lacks access to full social protection. In other words, in two thirds of the globe, societies have not been able to guarantee their people the basic means to live without fear and without feeling discriminated against or ostracized. Almost two thirds of the world’s children – that’s 1.3 billion children – live without coverage. 

Today, millions of people cannot count on their communities to provide basic goods and services.

These are overwhelming numbers.  But, there is an approach that is slowly gaining traction.   Through trial and error and lessons learned, we have gained experience in the implementation of social protection systems. Today, we have the means to provide access to health and to a basic income, which can provide a minimum level of security.  The instruments range from family contributions for each child and disability pensions, to maternal, retirement and unemployment benefits. 

The issue, and it’s a human rights issue, is how to extend these services and minimum social benefits to a higher number of people.  We need universal systems in line with people’s universal rights.

Throughout history, we have witnessed how crisis can become a detonator that speeds up the decision making process.  After the 2008 crisis, for example, a series of reflections and proposals were put forward, in the area of global financial governance, as well as domestic economic frameworks.

Dear Friends,

As President of Chile, I had to deal with the negative impact of the economic crisis on the most vulnerable.  What was our response?  We increased public investment, in line with a countercyclical fiscal policy, which aimed to create new employment opportunities and spur the economy.

We also carried out pension system reform to introduce more solidarity, with redistribution and coverage to ensure that the most vulnerable could count on a basic salary.  The outcome?  Well, the economic and social results showed that the adoption of an active role by the State in social protection had been the correct response.

Leaders around the globe began to speak about social protection.  In fact, the United Nations agreed in 2009 to a “Social Protection Floor Initiative” that called for a coordinated joint response to the crisis, both in the economic and social spheres.  Thus, the right to social protection for all was validated.

Among the efforts to promote social protection, was the Commission set up in 2011 by the ILO Director General, at that time, Juan Somavia.  He asked me to chair a Commission that would develop recommendation in this area for Member States.  Along with renowned experts such Martin Hirsch, Aurelio Fernández López, Ebrahim Patel, Eveline Herfkens, Kemal Dervis, Margaret Wilson, Sudha Pillai, Zheng Silin, we wrote the “Social Protection Floor for a Fair and Inclusive Globalization” report, which had as its main finding that investing in integral social protection systems are the best response to crisis in the short and long term.

But, what was even more interesting, was that the ILO did not limit itself to sharing the conclusions learned in the cases under study, instead it took these ideas and turned them into actions, such as Recommendation R202.  The recommendation, adopted by the International Labor Conference in June 2012, provides guidance to member States in building comprehensive social security systems and extending social security coverage by prioritizing the establishment of national floors of social protection accessible to all in need.  The G20 Members and the United Nations system also backed this strategy.

This is what it is all about.  To share with the largest number of people and organizations proposals based on evidence, international cooperation and above all, dialogue among governments, business and workers.

A collective conversation gave rise to a collective construction, on the basis of values that we all share:  a globalization that brings opportunities not threats, social cohesion that leads to justice and stability, and an economy that garners dynamism through the strengthening of human capital.

In 2012 there was a paradigm shift.  There was a broad acceptance that social protection floors must be present in all societies. 

What has happened since 2012?

Since 2014, the ILO and the OHCHR, as well as other nine UN agencies have worked together to promote the right to social security, through a common web platform, while providing support to more than 40 countries, which are developing social protection floor systems.

Even more important, many countries have been able to develop social protection floors, which guarantee specific rights.  And, it’s not only the more developed countries, as there are many advances in middle and low income countries.

For example, there are relevant efforts to guarantee an income to senior citizens in countries such as Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Cape Verde, China, Cambodia, Kosovo, Lesotho, Mongolia, Georgia, Namibia, South Africa, Thailand, Nepal, Trinidad and Tobago, and Ukraine.

Another interesting development is Argentina’s SUMAR program for pregnant women or the family benefits scheme in Mongolia. Or the progress made by Thailand, Colombia, Rwanda and China to ensure universal health.

What we are witnessing is the forging of a consensus regarding the link between social protection floors and more inclusive development,  We are beginning to accept that there are no shortcuts to true development and that wellbeing in the long term can only be achieved through investment in people, without exception.

This goes hand in hand with the building of more inclusive societies, with a holistic view of the necessary actions. This is exactly what countries committed to when the 2030 Agenda was adopted. SDG 1.3 is explicit:  we should implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable.

We know that the SDGs are not just rhetoric.  Their strength lies in being a road map to which we can all contribute.  This is why the implementation of SDG 1.3 will concentrate most of our discussion today.

But, today’s politicians, labour leaders and entrepreneurs face the acceleration of global processes generating both threats and opportunities. 

The most evident threat is to do nothing, as this would perpetuate precarious conditions, vulnerability and lack of economic growth.  Deficits in coverage are directly linked to the absence of investment in social protection, in particular in Africa, Asia and the Arab States. 

Another threat are widespread austerity measures, blighting the lives of millions and disproportionately affecting the people least equipped to cope. In times of hardship, too many countries cut social protection rather than increase it, even for children.

Whether these austerity measures and fiscal reforms are genuine attempts to deal with the aftermath of the economic crisis, or are politically driven cost-cutting exercises, they often come at the expense of human rights protections. They run counter to States’ human rights obligations.

International human rights law is clear on this matter: Budgets should be ring-fenced to ensure that essential goods and services are universally accessible.

These austerity measures also risk jeopardizing our progress towards the SDGs – plunging more people into poverty and impinging on more of their rights.

We cannot, on the one hand, press for changes in line with the SDGs, in terms of inclusion, climate change adaptation, and on the other, undermine the foundations of the system of protection, that is the last resort for millions of families.

This is not an abstract idea. The United Nations has identified and highlighted the real impact of this phenomenon on economic, social and cultural rights.  For example, the negative effects on the right to work, the right to social security, particularly for women, migrants and the elderly. In the case of health reform, budget cuts can affect the most vulnerable, if they cut benefits, reduce personnel or do no prioritize prevention. Pension reform can often hide the exclusion of those with less education and fewer years of work, in particular, women.

The actions we must take are linked to opportunities.  There is progress, more awareness regarding the key role of social protection and there are more and better instruments.  That said, we still need to do more.

Today’s meeting is an opportunity to identify the best tools to continue expanding the social protection floors, as the first step in the construction of more wellbeing.

According to the ILO, the number of countries with social protection systems have increased from 17 in 1900, to 104 in 1946, 155 in 1970 and 187 in 2015. In 2017, around 45% of the world’s population has access to at least on social protection benefit, while 29% have access to comprehensive social security systems.

It is a beginning, but just the beginnings.  Now is the time to ensure that SDG 1.3 brings real results to people.

There are some good examples.  Colombia has increased maternity leave from 14 to 18 weeks.  India is providing subsidies to pregnant women and doubling the maternal leave for lactation for working mothers. The State of Oregon in the United States has approved an extension of healthcare for migrant children, regardless of their legal status.

What should we do to ensure that this becomes reality for all?  How can we collectively promote Universal Social Protection (#USP20130)?  How do we accompany countries with fewer resources, and put at their disposal the lessons learned, how do we to define those tasks that are most necessary, how do we mobilize decision makers?

The ILO's Global Flagship social protection programme is pivotal to meeting these challenges. Its work to promote basic income security and access to health care and food for the most marginalized groups on earth is important, inspiring and practical.

The ILO estimates that implementing its programme, so it can change 130 million lives by 2020, would cost 50 million US dollars. That’s 40 cents per person.  An astonishingly small amount to deliver such far-reaching change, including basic income security for all, and guaranteed access to essential health and maternity care.

I am delighted that this flagship programme is built so firmly and clearly on a human rights foundation – with the ILO Guiding Principles - drawn from States’ human rights obligations, at its very heart.

It’s my privilege to be here in person to restate my Office’s full support for the program, and indeed to express my backing for all the ILO’s work.  Our overlapping roles on human rights and labour rights mean we are reinforcing each other’s work – and we have much work to do!

Dear friends,

Social protection systems are a community response.  They are a human creation at service of the needs. 

Millions of lives can be transformed by the indivisible principles of meeting people’s physical needs AND enabling them to enjoy their human rights. Our shared vision is not just all human rights for all people, but full social protection for all people.

We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to deliver this – to defeat poverty, level out power imbalances, deliver gender equality and protect the weakest members of our societies.

Billions of people long to enjoy their basic rights to social security, food, health, education, equality. Let’s meet these basic needs, and then let’s exceed them.

Thank you.