Decent Work, the key to poverty reduction

Breaking the cycle of poverty involves full employment and decent work. This has been a major thrust of the ILO approach.

Poverty anywhere is a threat to peace everywhere

In 1944, the Declaration of Philadelphia set out a clear rationale for the ILO to engage in the fight against poverty in all forms in all countries. Since then, such commitment has translated into policy advice, standard setting, research and data collection, and concrete technical assistance programmes for poverty eradication in poor and rich countries alike.

Breaking the cycle of poverty involves full employment and decent work. This has been a major thrust of the ILO approach. Evidence shows that decent and productive jobs, sustainable enterprises and economic transformation play a key role in reducing poverty. While development assistance remains important, countries that managed to pull themselves out of poverty were those that were able to move from low to higher productive activities, while strengthening institutions for governance and social protection for workers and their families.

ILO’s contribution was reflected in the work towards the Millennium Development Goals. Now, it is fully embodied in the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, where social protection floors are mentioned under Goal 1. Goal 8 explicitly refers to the promotion of inclusive economic growth, employment and decent work, including protecting workers’ rights.

Decent work for all

Decent jobs and livelihoods matter particularly for those who are most excluded and most vulnerable. During the 1995-2010 period, ILO technical cooperation programmes have helped nearly one million children escape the scourge of child labour. Entrepreneurship programmes have assisted disadvantaged women and youth work their way out of poverty. Public works schemes have provided short-term opportunities for young and displaced, from Liberia to South Africa, Kenya, Haiti, India and Brazil. Special programmes target those most difficult to reach: indigenous people, trafficked migrants, forced labour.

Besides targeted programmes, changes in policy and legislation can have large impact. At present, about 40 developing countries are receiving ILO technical assistance in strengthening their minimum wage systems, thereby contributing to raising the incomes of millions of poor people whose only asset is their labour.

Poverty has many faces. It is not just about the lack of income and services. Through its decent work agenda, the ILO is engaged in promoting organization and voice, enabling people living in poverty to mobilize and become active agents in shaping their future.

ILO’s role in standard setting contributes to national frameworks and legislation to support improvements in working lives, dignity and respect for fundamental rights. The recent convention on domestic workers, ratified by twenty-two countries, provides a universal benchmark for decent treatment. If ratified worldwide, it would reach more than 53 million of domestic workers, many of whom poor or living on the edge of poverty.