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High-level Expert Meeting
Global Fund for Social Protection

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Statement by Michelle Bachelet,
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

22 September 2020

Ms Elisabeth Borne, French Minister of Labour, Employment and Inclusion
Mr Guy Ryder, Director-General, International Labour Organization

Bonjour. Je vous remercie pour cet accueil, et je me permets de citer en préambule de mon allocution une femme remarquable, qui continue à m'inspirer. Il y a quinze ans, Simone Veil nous a rappelé – et je cite – que " L'histoire de notre protection sociale est faite de constructions successives; de la volonté d'hommes et de femmes de construire ensemble cette solidarité que nous avons reçue en héritage."

It is our turn, now, to act as good ancestors and stewards of the vital social protections we have inherited.

As Simone Veil recalled, with that quote, there has been progress in advancing social protections across the world, over the past century. But the human right to social protection is not yet a reality for the majority of the world's people. Seventy-one per cent of the people alive today have no social security coverage, or only partial and inadequate coverage. They include almost two-thirds of the world's children. Women, who often take jobs in the informal economy, are frequently deprived of social protections; 6 out of 10 women giving birth receive no cash assistance at all.

The current pandemic, and the growing recession that has accompanied it, are hitting these very vulnerable people very hard. It also brings into sharp focus how valuable social protections can be, in protecting people from temporary crises; helping them get back on their feet; and therefore boosting the resilience and sustainability of a wide range of economic processes, as well as helping to minimise social tensions that can tear apart the social fabric.

Social protections build sound economies and healthy societies. In today's context, they can be crucial, life-sustaining tools to enable access to health care and education, protect the right to housing and food, and shield people from extreme poverty. There is also increasing evidence that failure to uphold people's economic, social and cultural rights can be a contributing factor in violence and conflict. By protecting those fundamental rights, social protections help to ensure public confidence in institutions, and social peace.

Building those social protections is the right thing to do, and the smart thing to do.

Moreover, they are affordable. As ILO has shown, a universal social protection scheme that include allowances for all children; maternity benefits for all women with newborns; benefits for all persons with severe disabilities; and universal old-age pensions will cost an average 1.6 per cent of a developing country'sGDP.

Even in a time of crisis – perhaps especially at a time of crisis – that is a relatively small investment which will return very powerful dividends.

Today's meeting will discuss an initiative that aims to accelerate the construction of universal social protection systems in countries around the world, by mobilising, coordinating and channelling cooperation and assistance from UN agencies, international financial institutions, and donor States.

The Global Fund on Social Protection which has been proposed by the UN Human Rights Council's Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, Olivier de Schutter, in tandem with ILO, could become a key driver of this important effort, by channelling matching and complementary funds from international sources to the national resources being dedicated to social protection measures.

In my view, it is crucial that the proposed Global Fund for Social Protection ensures national ownership of social protection systems. As with other human rights, ensuring an effective national framework that promotes the people's human right to social security is the responsibility of each State.

At the same time, every State has an interest in ensuring that no-one is left behind. COVID-19 has once again hammered home that message: we are only truly safe if all of us are safe. Assisting less developed countries to step up their safety nets for their people is a sound investment.

Sources of financing for this Global Fund should be identified right from the start. One possibility that was discussed at the ILO Social Protection Week last year was to enhance global corporate taxation, directing those funds to a financing mechanism.

I should also note that in my view, resources should not be spent in creating a new entity; rather, we should rely on existing UN structures to function as the financing arm of this initiative.

Above all, I encourage States to dedicate the maximum available resources to advance the human right to social protection – both at home, and abroad. As part of that effort, it is particularly important to counter discrimination, including gender discrimination, and protect the most marginalized people. In many societies, women's unequal burden of unpaid care work is not reflected at all in social protection policies.

Older women are especially at risk: the unpaid care work they perform throughout their life obstructs their ability to access formal employment and therefore contributory social security or decent wages – placing them at high risk of extreme poverty in old age. Social protection policies should aim at correcting this imbalance to ensure unpaid care work does not undermine women's human rights.

To create the necessary fiscal space for actions to advance social protection, and combat inequality and discrimination, I urge the authorities to explore the adoption of progressive taxation; strengthening the capacity to collect taxes; fighting tax evasion; and efforts to tackle corruption, which drains resources from the State and the common good.

I wish you a productive discussion of these and other crucial issues.