21st International Conference of Labour Statisticians

ICLS Centenary Conference:
ILO Director-General Gilbert F. Houngbo’s closing remarks

Statement | 20 October 2023
Chair, Mr Anil Arora,
Vice-Chair, Ms Grace Bediako,
Committee Chair, Ms Graciela Márquez,
Rapporteur, Mr Boon Heng Ang,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Last week you started your work with two reports and some 30 room documents to consider.

You have had many side-events and important panel discussions.

Your working hours have been long and hard.

It is impressive to see how you have tackled so many topics with such dedication.

The expertise you bring, from each corner of the world, from very diverse backgrounds, has added great value to the process.

And now the commitments that you are finalizing have led to concrete results.

So I am very confident these will have a significant impact on the world of work.

Let us take, in particular, the Sustainable Development Agenda for 2030.

Many of you have been working tirelessly within the UN Statistical Commission to identify proper metrics, to track progress on different aspects of sustainable development.

Decent work features prominently, in Goal 8, SDG8.

But it is also part of many other goals; in particular those related to poverty, governance, rights and gender equality.

In fact, the decent work agenda is essential to defining and achieving the SDGs.

This is because it is crucial to the well-being of families and communities everywhere – in every part of the world, at every level of development.

So, if we are to adopt the right policies, policies that support the goals of decent work and social justice, we need concrete, broadly-agreed metrics that can measure progress.

This is precisely what you have been working on.
  • Common understanding.
  • Compatibility of sources.
  • Identification of what can, and what cannot, be measured.
Quality, reliable, data can also create a solid basis for negotiations.

Many sensitive discussions would be helped enormously if they were based on properly defined concepts, detailed measurements and harmonized methods.

So, your processes also support social dialogue.

Social dialogue is of course the essence of the ILO’s work. It is part of our DNA in this house.

We are very fortunate that our unique tripartite structure allows workers, employers and governments to work together, and, among other things, contribute to developing common statistical standards.

Dear colleagues,

It is just over a year now since I took up my post, as Director-General.

Since then we have seen ongoing disruption in the world of work in particular, and in our societies more broadly. The continuing impact of COVID-19 has not been completely resolved. Inflation has been hitting hard. Conflict, natural disasters, among other factors; let’s face it, it is an enormously challenging time.

Despite these challenges – or rather, because of these issues – I remain as committed as ever to promoting greater social justice. It was one of the core principles of the ILO’s founding Constitution in 1919, and the Declaration of Philadelphia in 1944. And it remains just as important today.

A focus on social justice can help us find solutions to those crises, to rising inequalities and growing insecurities in the world of work.

We can do this by:
  • facilitating productive employment, including in the care, the green and the digital economies.
  • promoting universal access to social protection.
  • and strengthening labour institutions, notably with constructive social dialogue.
In particular, decent work deficits can be brutal for those who rely on informal work to live and feed their families.

That is almost, as you know better than I do, 60 per cent of employed people in the world today – or 2 billion people.

2 billion people – it is a big number. It’s a compelling statistic. One that demonstrates how data can become the basis for a powerful call to action.

This is why I am very glad to see the work you have done in adopting new standards on informality.

It covers not only how to define and measure informal employment, but also provides an indicator framework that can greatly expand our understanding.

These new standards will give countries a solid platform that will allow them to generate more accurate data. And that in turn will raise the profile of informal work.

It will also strengthen the case for informality – and other topics like unpaid work and digital platform work – to be included in the forthcoming review of the way GDP is calculated, as a headline indicator.

Finally, let me once again salute both your work, at this Conference, and the work of your predecessors. The product of this, 100 years of statistical wisdom, plays an essential role in guiding the ILO’s work. In fact, in guiding the work of the whole multilateral system.

So I cannot but respect the work you are doing – these weeks, and for the past 100 years.

I would like to thank all the governments, employers and workers, as well as the many observers who have attended and contributed to this conference.

From the ILO I can only humbly make clear our engagement and our commitment to go on working and supporting you in implementing the conclusions you will finalize today.

Thank you.