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International Labour Organisation

Volume 726: debated on Tuesday 5 April 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will reconsider their decision to withdraw discretionary funding to the International Labour Organisation.

My Lords, the UK’s multilateral aid review found that there was no longer a case for voluntary funding from DfID to the ILO. However, the department remains open to providing project funding to the ILO at a country level, now and in the future. The ILO will continue to receive an annual, assessed contribution from the UK paid by the Department for Work and Pensions. This amounts to £16 million in 2011.

Does not the Government’s stance reflect their prejudices rather than seek to improve the ILO in dealing with the many matters with which it has to cope? Is it not a fact that just 12 months ago DfID said conclusively that the partnership between the Government and the ILO would continue? How do they react now?

My Lords, the United Kingdom, led by the Department for Work and Pensions, remains a fully paid-up member of the ILO governing body. We will continue to engage proactively with the International Labour Organisation and we will pursue a range of reform-related issues, including the reform of the workings of the governing body and improving audit arrangements. All this will carry on, and the ILO, on a country-by-country, programme-by-programme, basis, is still able to apply to DfID for funding, as long as it has a provable business plan.

My Lords, what was the basis of the multilateral aid review’s findings on the effectiveness of the ILO as a development organisation, particularly as regards inputs to and impacts on the millennium development goals? What discussions are planned with the ILO in that regard on in-country funding and specific projects?

My noble friend is aware that the ILO has published a review of our decision. It found that while the multilateral aid review recognised the value of standard-setting and policy-making, unfortunately, it found no evidence that a difference was being made to poor people in developing countries.

Will the Minister explain her answer to the previous question: that multilateral assistance through the European Union and the World Bank is good, whereas multilateral assistance through the International Labour Organisation and UNESCO is bad? Is there not a political agenda there?

My Lords, the noble Lord does not seem to understand. The point I am trying to get across is that we had the multilateral aid review because many programmes were not delivering the work that they were supposed to deliver. Therefore, particularly in these constrained times, we need to make sure that every penny we spend is spent well. The multilateral aid review considered the ILO to be one of the organisations that was not performing to its best.

Will my noble friend consider setting up a discretionary fund, run by the Government, into which noble Lords who want to give more money to the ILO can contribute? It would be a very agreeable experience for noble Lords opposite to put their money where their mouths are.

My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware of the excellent ILO programmes on the elimination of child labour, which have been responsible for getting millions of children out of hazardous work and into school. Is she also aware that the ILO is committed to ending the worst forms of child labour by 2016? Will she therefore agree that it is certainly not the time effectively to end the UK's partnership with the ILO when such critical development objectives as child labour and education are at stake?

My Lords, through DfID we will continue to focus on child labour issues by working through a wide range of partners, including the ILO. The Government's annual contribution of £16 million through the Department for Work and Pensions directly helps the International Labour Organisation combat child labour. In addition, we provide £12 million to the fairtrade labelling organisation, which effectively combats child labour and has robust systems to investigate allegations.

My Lords, will the Minister take this opportunity to state unequivocally something that is good about the ILO—namely, that it is tripartite? Workers’ representatives as well as employers’ representatives come together from every country of the world. One might say that the workers’ representatives in some countries are rather dodgy, but is not the principle that each country in the United Nations, going back to the First World War and the League of Nations, has to provide a grouping of workers’ representatives with a degree of autonomy, a remarkable force for good in many places in the world?

Yes, my Lords, I agree that we want to see fair, decent working conditions for all people. I assure the noble Lord that that is a core part of the Department for International Development's work. For example, in India, Nigeria and Bangladesh we helped to generate more than 1 million jobs. We helped 2.3 million women to access jobs. We provide support for social protection, including public works. That is why we are continuing with the £16 million support through the Department for Work and Pensions.

Is not the noble Baroness arguing that individual Governments should have the last word in this matter? Is that not a prescription for indecision and discontent?

No, my Lords, I cannot agree with the noble Lord. I have made it clear throughout my responses that we support raising labour standards in global supply chains. The number of fairtrade-certified producers has increased from 1.1 million to 2.5 million. That is an improvement. We are not going backwards, but we need to make sure that every penny we spend is spent well.

The Minister talks about spending money well. Will she tell us whether discretionary funding is still available to her department from the reserves available to the Treasury?