Marking economic growth and social progress

Page 32 

Workers ©Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP

Japan’s accession to the OECD was an event that marked Japan’s entry to the club of developed nations. In 1964, Japan was in the midst of high-speed economic growth, and the national policy was to catch up with and overtake the US and Europe. In October of that year, Tokyo hosted the first Olympic Games to take place in Asia, and four years later, in 1968, the country’s GNP passed West Germany’s and Japan became a major economic power second only to the US.

However, economic scale is not the only criterion by which to gauge a developed country. To become a developed country both in name and substance, not just the government but also workers and employers, as social partners, need to understand and perform their social responsibilities as members of this wider international society.

As well as economic policies for growth, the OECD sets out environmental policies and various other standards and guidelines, such as Towards Green Growth (2011) or the work of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC), which contributes to the sound development of poorer countries. In particular, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, which were first adopted in 1976 and revised several times subsequently, have put certain brakes on an excessive “race to the bottom” by calling on multinational enterprises–the main actors in globalisation–to protect the environment, combat bribery and establish sound labour-management relations based on the respect of core labour standards, not just to uphold shareholder rights.

The Japanese government has mentioned strengthening the partnership between the OECD and Asian countries as a key topic for the 2014 OECD Ministerial Council Meeting in May, which Japan is chairing. This “partnership” is not just about encouraging economic growth in the respective countries, but must also act as a framework for the OECD to ensure compliance with agreed standards and achieve social progress at the same time as economic growth.

Among the OECD’s policies, the 1994 OECD Jobs Strategy has made the strongest mark. Out of the nine recommendations of the strategy, we, trade unions, have remained resolutely opposed to relaxation of the rules protecting workers, which has entailed greater flexibility in working hours as well as wages and other labour costs, and a re-examination of the provisions for job security.

It may create misunderstandings by saying this, but some policies tend to come in and out of fashion. From the 1990s to the 2000s, most countries around the world leaned towards pro-market liberalism, and the OECD was no exception to this. Thinking about the creation of a single global marketplace prompted by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the increased burden on governments and the way this subsequently inhibited growth, undoubtedly one option for policy planners was to put the priority on maximising business freedom.

But having experienced the worldwide recession triggered by the fall of Lehman Bros, we realised how entrusting everything to the market led neither to growth nor to people’s happiness. All around the world, at all levels of society, we are seeing a comprehensive re-evaluation of previous policies and the search for a new approach. The goal of “inclusive growth” was highlighted within the OECD’s Growing Unequal and Divided We Stand reports, and are now encapsulated in the “New Approaches to Economic Challenges” (NAEC) initiative, which is gathering specific recommendations for achieving a policy shift. It is hoped that NAEC will generate solid momentum for change.

The Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC) to the OECD and its counterpart, the Business and Industry Advisory Committee (BIAC) to the OECD, are the source of far-sighted and balanced policy input to the OECD work programme. This social partnership may occasionally spark conflicting labour and management interests, and the consensual process may seem inefficient. However, it is needed in order to create policies that are broadly acceptable to society as a whole. From the perspective of long-term policy enforceability, it is the most efficient process.

As we celebrate Japan’s 50th anniversary at the OECD, RENGO aims to realise a secure society based on “work”. Through TUAC, we intend to continue playing an active role in the OECD’s activities.

RENGO is a member of the Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC) to the OECD.

Visit and

See also

©OECD Observer No 298, Q1 2014

Economic data


Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive paper editions delivered to you directly

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • How do the largest community of British expats living in Spain feel about Brexit? Britons living in Orihuela Costa, Alicante give their views.
  • Brexit is taking up Europe's energy and focus, according to OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. Watch video.
  • OECD Chief Economist Catherine Mann and former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King discuss the economic merits of a US border adjustment tax and the outlook for US economic growth.
  • Africa's cities at the forefront of progress: Africa is urbanising at a historically rapid pace coupled with an unprecedented demographic boom. By 2050, about 56% of Africans are expected to live in cities. This poses major policy challenges, but make no mistake: Africa’s cities and towns are engines of progress that, if harnessed correctly, can fuel the entire continent’s sustainable development.
  • OECD Observer i-Sheet Series: OECD Observer i-Sheets are smart contents pages on major issues and events. Use them to find current or recent articles, video, books and working papers. To browse on paper and read on line, or simply download.
  • How sustainable is the ocean as a source of economic development? The Ocean Economy in 2030 examines the risks and uncertainties surrounding the future development of ocean industries, the innovations required in science and technology to support their progress, their potential contribution to green growth and some of the implications for ocean management.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • They are green and local --It’s a new generation of entrepreneurs in Kenya with big dreams of sustainable energy and the drive to see their innovative technologies throughout Africa.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at .

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2017