“Resilient Economies and Inclusive Societies: Empowering people for jobs and growth” was the theme of the annual OECD Ministerial Council Meeting (MCM) that we held in Paris on 6-7 May, back to back with the OECD Forum on 5-6 May. It was a very pertinent focus: given the uncertain global economic outlook, the persistent scourge of high unemployment and widening inequalities, we need to empower people with the means and opportunities to fulfil their potential.
Appropriately, Japan chaired this year’s MCM, coinciding with the celebration of its 50th anniversary of OECD membership. The country embodies like very few others the concept of resilience, having bounced back from natural tragedies and a prolonged economic downturn. We were fortunate to welcome Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and benefit from his insights, by hearing first hand his very compelling presentation on the structural reforms that he is undertaking to revitalise his country’s economy.
Like Japan, all OECD and partner countries are determined to emerge stronger from the crisis, and create a more resilient, more inclusive future. In this regard, the core message of the MCM and Forum was loud and clear: policymakers must act now to boost the global recovery and ensure its benefits are widely shared through more inclusive growth.
During our annual gathering, ministers stressed their commitment to policies that create quality jobs, improve people’s well-being, protect the environment, restore citizens’ trust in institutions, and empower people to participate fully in society. Among other important deliverables, they adopted the Declaration on Automatic Exchange of Information between countries and jurisdictions, an international standard that reinforces efforts to improve financial transparency and combat tax evasion. To promote greener growth, they adopted a Statement on Climate Change, which will help the OECD explore the policy mixes needed to achieve zero net carbon emissions during the second half of this century, and contribute to a successful UN climate change conference (COP 21) in Paris in 2015. They also invited the organisation to deepen its work on internet privacy, and adopted the OECD Recommendations on the Governance of Critical Risks, covering natural and man-made disasters.
Ministers also had an opportunity to discuss how education and skills could empower all citizens–including women, young people and the older generation–and welcomed a new report entitled All on Board: Making Inclusive Growth Happen, which explores ways of ensuring that opportunity, health and well-being are more widely shared. Furthermore, the delegates that came to Paris considered the early findings and policy recommendations of the New Approaches to Economic Challenges (NAEC) and Inclusive Growth initiatives, which draw lessons from the crisis in a bid to cultivate a fresh “state-of-mind” for weighing up policy options.
These are just a few highlights from this year’s OECD ministerial meeting, whose statements and documents can be consulted at www.oecd.org/mcm and are reflected in this edition of the OECD Observer. They show that at the heart of our actions is a determination to rebuild the motivation and trust that is so essential for progress. People feel discouraged, having lost confidence in politics, banks, the media, and even other people and countries. It is up to policy leaders to earn it back.
But they cannot do it alone. Businesses, which generate jobs, opportunities and wealth, spur global development, and influence ideas and mindsets, must also shoulder the burden. That means working in lock-step together to forge ever better rules on the likes of tax evasion, public procurement, due diligence in supply chains, corporate governance, conflict of interest, lobbying and bribery, and more. It means strengthening the rule of law and good governance, both in the public and private sectors. It means fully exploiting the OECD’s armoury of conventions and principles, its benchmarks, peer pressure reviews and “soft law” mechanisms, conveniently assembled under our CleanGovBiz umbrella.
Improving corporate conduct is also vital, as the spotlight in this edition shows. The point was recognised at the MCM and defined the key message delivered by the Global Forum on Responsible Business Conduct and informal ministerial meeting, which the OECD hosted on 26-27 June: global businesses must look beyond the bottom line and “go responsible”, whether in the treatment of staff, subcontractors, clients, tax authorities, or the environment. Moreover, they must act responsibly throughout their supply chains.
The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises is a particularly pertinent instrument in this regard, because it offers businesses a fair, robust and internationally-agreed benchmark to align themselves with, while giving the public a voice via its National Contact Points.
The collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh in 2013, killing over a thousand workers as they finished clothing for western export, was a tragic reminder of how interconnected our markets are, and how important responsible business conduct is for people’s lives. I urge business, trade unions and civil society to join forces to ensure the guidelines work for the benefit of citizens everywhere.
The clouds of the crisis are lifting, but for the storm to clear, both the public and private sectors must work harder together–locally, nationally and globally–to build the more inclusive, resilient, happier and safer world that we all desire and deserve.
© OECD Observer No 299, Q2 2014