Speech by Mr. Gana Fofang, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative At the Launch of the Human Develapment Report for 2015: Work for Human Development

Feb 3, 2016

UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative Mr. Gana Fofang

Excellencies, Distinguished Panellists, Members of the Media, Invited Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am pleased to welcome you all to the launch in South Africa, of the 2015 Human Development Report, the latest in the series of global Human Development Reports published by UNDP since 1990. I am also pleased to inform you that shortly after discussions around the Human Development Report, we will also be launching the World Economic Situation and Prospects (WESP) report produced by one of our sister Agencies, (UNDESA). Let me also note from the onset that this year marks 50 years of the existence of the United Nations Development Programme. During this time, UNDP has played a transformational role in improving peoples’ lives in the nearly 170 countries where it works.

Human Development Reports have traditionally been characterized by independent, empirically grounded analysis of major development issues, trends and policies as they affect the individual. The reports have sought to bring out fundamental elements of development from a human perspective, namely, a good and healthy long life as measured by life expectancy, a good functional education, inclusivity and participation in economic endeavour, resilience from external shocks and the ability to choose one’s destiny. Human development has always been about expanding people’s choices.  

Today, we are launching the 2015 Human Development Report which follows in the footsteps of several key global agreements. You will recall that in July 2015 in Addis Ababa, a new global agenda for financing development was agreed; earlier, in Sendai, Japan, the new framework for disaster risk reduction was agreed; In September last year, a new global framework for development called the Sustainable Development Goals was adopted at the UN General Assembly to replace the Millennium Development Goals. Later in November, the landmark Paris climate agreement forged at the Conference of Parties (COP 21) progressed the global effort to tackle climate change. There were also major global and regional meetings on migration which has unfortunately become the topical issue of our time.

The theme of the 2015 Human Development Report is “work for human development” which touches upon all the major global agendas I just mentioned. For instance, in the new post 2015 development agenda, full and productive employment, as well as decent work are key elements of the Sustainable Development Goals and are explicitly specified in Goal 8: “Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”.  Within this Goal, several targets allude to the importance of ensuring productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including young people and persons with disabilities, as well as equal pay for work of equal value. It calls for the substantial reduction of the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training and the protection of labour rights including the promotion of safe and secure working environments for all workers.

The report highlights a number of key areas which define the concept of work. First, it states that work is more than simply jobs - it puts people, rather than economies or economic growth at its centre by focusing on all kinds of paid and unpaid work. Work helps people escape from poverty and helps forge stronger communities, develop skills, and give people a sense of purpose. It is a foundation for both the richness of economies and the richness of human lives.

The Report also comes at a time of major changes in the world of work, affecting when, how, and where people work creating both opportunities and challenges. For instance, dramatic demographic populations of older people are growing rapidly worldwide such that by 2050, it is expected that people older than sixty will, for the first time in history, be equal in number to those younger than fifteen. Societies worldwide are rethinking the role which older people play in the workforce, and exploring whether the retirement age should be raised. In addition, we see globalization and the digital revolution continuing to gather speed.  There are now around as many mobile phone subscriptions - seven billion – worldwide as there are people. This has dramatic impacts on the world of work, as it does on all aspects of economies and societies.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, we are currently witnessing unprecedented changes to our climate. Last year was reported to have been the hottest year since records began in the 19th Century while this region is experiencing the worst drought on record. On the other side of the world, New York City experienced the worst snow blizzard on record while countries like the UK in Europe has witnessed the worst floods ever. These are signals which require economies to react appropriately and timeously as structural changes will invariably happen. New work will be created while existing jobs will disappear, or will need to be transformed. Changes in the world of work have profound implications for human development – which is why this report is so timely.

The theme of the “Work for Human Development” speaks to the key priority of the African continent in general, and to South Africa in particular, namely structural transformation that would allow for job creation and inclusive development. The report contends that enhancing human development through work requires policies and strategies that address three broad areas which resonate perfectly with South Africa’s own national development priorities, namely creating job opportunities, ensuring worker’s wellbeing and developing targeted actions for shifting towards sustainable work. This report pays particular attention to the most vulnerable in society, including those who are most unfairly treated in the labour market. They include child labourers, trafficked workers, forced workers, workers in hazardous conditions, and women. It states that three out of every four hours of unpaid work are done by women as compared to men who do two out of every three hours of paid work. Not only are women doing much more unpaid work than men, but when they get paid, they get paid less. Women earn an average of 24 per cent less than their male colleagues worldwide. It is common knowledge, ladies and gentlemen, that sharing the burden of unpaid care work and enabling more women to enter the labour force on equal terms has wide benefits. It stands to reason that whole societies are worse off if half of their members can’t participate fully.

I should also add that the report emphasizes that it is the quality of work – not just the amount – which determines whether work will enhance human development. Today more than 1.5 billion people in developing countries are working in jobs which offer few rights and inadequate protection should they lose their livelihoods.

Let me remind this gathering that Human Development Reports are produced to provide a platform for extensive development policy debate at the global, regional and country level on topical issues that impact on the various dimensions of human development. The reports are not merely a league table showing where a country stands on the global HDI rankings, but rather they are meant to provide the freedom to explore ideas and constructively challenge both exogenous and endogenous factors that affect human development. In launching this human development report, I hope that many of the key messages raised in the report and recommendations or calls to action to guarantee worker’s rights and promote sustainable work will lead to greater policy discourse on the best options for human development at the national level.

Coming back to South Africa, I am pleased to inform you that UNDP will be embarking on the production of the fourth National Human Development Report – the last one was one was produced in 2003 – and I hope we will be engaging with some of you to undertake this critical task to contribute to developmental dialogue in the country.

With these few remarks, it is my pleasure to launch the 2015 Report on Work for Human Development.

I thank you.