By Brendan Pastor
Published June 29, 2013
The global unemployment crisis that disproportionately affects youth will prevent countries from meeting many of the proposed goals in the post-2015 development agenda.
“There is an urgent need to have a comprehensive approach to improving the conditions that would have the most leverage in addressing youth unemployment,” Telma Viale, the International Labour Organization (ILO)’s representative to the United Nations, says.
While addressing unemployment levels is essential to development, they must form part of a broader framework of goals aimed at creating conditions for youth to have a more equitable future, including access to healthcare, education, and political participation, Viale argues.
The Report to the Secretary-General of the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons (HLP), which was launched in June 2013, outlines suggestions for the establishment of the post-2015 agenda and gives specific mention to the importance of youth employment. It calls for the creation of indicators specifically designed to measure youth employment as a way to gauge economic development.
While a post-2015 agenda with a focus on the need to create conditions of decent work for youth is welcome, there are concerns about the quality of the work that economic growth creates.
Sharan Burrow, the General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, described optimism at the general aims of the report to eliminate poverty, but expressed frustration at the low benchmark for standards of work.
“This is a problem that exists to a very large degree across the globe, not only in Least Developed Countries, but other developing countries as well” Burrow says. “We don’t think it goes anywhere near far enough on issues of ensuring decent work.”
A lack of specific mention for the responsibilities of businesses to pay a living wage in their supply chains, or the responsibilities of governments to legally protect people from exploitation at work, mean the goal of creating decent jobs is now less likely, Burrow contends.
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With Bangladesh factory collapse and the subsequent death of more than 1,000 workers in recent memory, activists and development experts are keen to address the prevalence of exploitative, underpaid, and unsafe working conditions throughout the developing world. But the most popular method for doing so – the ILO’s Core Labour Standards – creates a dilemma for workers in developing countries who prefer any work as opposed to none at all.
The Labour Standards, established in 1998 during the 86th session of the International Labour Conference, are a minimum set of binding standards that states must adhere to, and include standards like ending forced labour; abolishing child labour; eliminating employment discrimination; and allowing freedom of association for collective bargaining with employers.
Although far-reaching and ambitious, these standards were never universally adopted. The primary reason, according to academics, is because they raise the cost for employers to do business, and remove a developing state’s comparative advantage to provide high volumes of cheap exploitable labor.
Fortunately, unemployed youth seeking decent work in the developing world need not settle with underpaid jobs or wait for the ILO’s standards to be adopted by their governments. Compelled by the tragedy in Bangladesh, many multinational corporations have begun to adopt their own standards to reduce exploitative and unsafe work conditions for young workers.
Even Apple, a company that has received substantial negative attention due to perceived exploitative working conditions at their Foxconn factory in China, has bowed to public pressure by recently taking steps to improve labor standards at their facilities, leading many to suggest that their actions will inspire others to follow suit.
With the post-2015 agenda still in its consultation phase, there is no conclusive answer to how the youth unemployment crisis will factor into the final document.
Amina Mohammed, the Assistant Secretary-General and ex-officio member of the HLP, reminded reporters at a press conference that “young people are at the centre,” giving hope to development observers that the post-2015 agenda will be the most youth-centric agenda in history.
A MediaGlobal News article.