This project is supported by the Ford Foundation but the viewpoints expressed here are explicitly those of the authors. The foundation's support is not tacit endorsement within.
On behalf of the Ford Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, the Sage Fund and openDemocracy, welcome and thank you for joining this virtual roundtable. This discussion is being hosted and facilitated by openDemocracy with support from the Ford Foundation.
As brief context and background for this discussion, the Ford Foundation initiated a global exploration on quality work in 2015, alongside program staff who are, or are now, colleagues with the Sage Fund and OSF. We released a report that provides a synthesis of the insights gathered from the work of partners and grantees, collaborations with external partners, research, and the collective knowledge of the program staff involved in the exploration. All along, we hoped that the insights summarised in this report would spur new ideas, necessary innovations, and dynamic conversations across the field. We also recognise that in order to address the systemic barriers and powerful actors underscored in the report, it is essential that we build solidarity across borders and issues, and to unite an array of actors and institutions to act collectively towards our aims for a more fair, just and inclusive society worldwide.
As such, the Ford Foundation is partnering with openDemocracy to host and facilitate a roundtable to bring together multi-stakeholders from across fields to discuss questions of strategic importance.
In recent decades, several profound shifts in the global economy have gathered momentum, transforming the structures of employment and resulting in rising inequality, including: increased globalisation of capital; a proliferation of complex production supply chains; heightened informality and precariousness of work; weakened regulatory capacity of the state and worker bargaining power; and, increased attacks on civil society broadly, and to trade unions, freedom of association and the right to collectively bargain worldwide.
These shifts and the resultant outcomes have led to forced migration as a result of diminished economic security, and have given rise to many powerful corporations operating with impunity in the extraction of labour and resources from workers and communities around the world.
At the same time, technological advancements have dramatically reshaped the workplace, digital space and public security, outpacing existing labour laws, social protections and governance of technical infrastructure. All of these trends are exacerbated by long standing legacies of power and discrimination based on gender, race, ability and migration status.
While we have each witnessed these seismic changes and repercussions, we were also grappling with the role of philanthropy in responding in a coordinated global manner consistent with the scale and size of these challenges playing out across the world. With that in mind we endeavoured to begin a conversation where we zeroed in on how we could align most effectively given the rapidly changing inputs to a global economy and the aspiration to have them be inclusive.
We each entered the conversation from different starting points based on our fields of study and experience while utilising very different approaches:
- For the Sage Fund, it means utilising and expanding on the human rights framework to ensure accountability of corporations and other powerful economic actors in the global economy and remedy for workers and affected communities.
- For Open Society Foundations International Migration Program, it means developing strategic interventions that draw from both labour market, worker rights and migrant rights arenas to improve conditions for migrant and low wage workers alike, and shift the broader business models and economic systems implicated.
- For the Ford Foundation, it means shaping solutions that realise decent work and inclusive economies through investing in workers to have voice and influence, by shaping policies and practices that centre workers and their wellbeing.
At the same time, we recognise that we are all working to transform the same deeply connected systems, with fundamental linkages and overlap in terms of interests, incentives, power and structures. The issues we are trying to address, and the rights we are trying to protect for communities and workers – whether informal, migrant or dependent contractors – are bound together underscoring the potential for collective interventions and disruptive impact.
As we explore how a global strategy to address these trends might take shape, we share as an input a recently released report that synthesises our insights gathered from grantees, external partnerships, research, and our own knowledge on the trends and barriers to quality work today as well as the opportunities to address quality work challenges.
In this joint effort, we explored the potential of several opportunity areas for promoting a decent work agenda and the promotion of human, migrant and labour rights on a global scale. Though these are not representative of all the frameworks we explored, and some were not fully tested given the timeline and approach of the exploration, these are five opportunity areas that we identified as promising interventions for systems change:
- Changing company practices and behaviour: To change company behaviours, a combination of push and pull entry points can be useful.
- Influencing investment: Influencing investment can drive quality work, by utilising investment levers to encourage “high road” business practices and behaviours that mitigate risk and lead to more sustainable operations.
- Establishing international or transnational standards and norms: Global labour standards and norms are critical to advance and protect labour rights and protections.
- Strengthening and enforcing labour laws: Governments have primary responsibility for ensuring human rights are realised, including through enforcing standards and regulations, addressing policy failure, holding companies accountable, and protecting and supporting workers both within their borders and across.
- Organise workers to build voice and power: Cross border organising amplifies worker power, whereby actors organise on multiple levels – across geographies, supply chains and migration corridors. Nonetheless, long-term systemic change hinges on empowering workers at the local level to represent their own interests in negotiations.
It is our hope that this dialogue will allow us to lift up promising interventions that have impact as well as offer lessons learned about interventions that aren’t working, and based on this understand how we reckon with and shift strategies amidst evolving circumstances. We are grateful for those who have weighed in so eloquently and purposefully to further this conversation and to put forward ideas and suggestions as we continue to wrestle with the extent of these challenges.
We look forward to participating with you in the upcoming days in this virtual discussion, as well as in other fora, to identify specific entry points, promising opportunities, and ways to coordinate and align in addressing key issues. Thank you in advance for your thoughtful contributions.
John Irons, Ford Foundation
Laine Romero-Alston, Open Society Foundations
Daria Caliguire, Sage Fund
How can funders support the spread of worker-driven social responsibility?
There’s a metaphor that I use a lot with our funding community, which is about gardens. It does not work to plant seeds and walk away. A garden is a year-round endeavour, and you need to support it at every stage of growth. The Fair Food Programme (FPP) has become a very mature version of the WSR model and it is bearing fruit. We now need to harvest that fruit and replant it. That means cultivating, nurturing, replicating, and growing successful programmes like the Milk With Dignity Programme in Vermont. If funding drains away, flagship programmes like the FFP will wither instead of reaching their potential as pioneering forces, and no longer be able to serve as guides for newer programmes.
How can funders support the growth of transnational solidarity?
Donors correctly frame their role as that of ‘partner’. They should be partners because they're filled with smart people who have their own important visions. But that partnership needs to reflect the principles I’ve mentioned elsewhere: tolerance for ambiguity, the ability to be a deep listener, patient and invested in the long term. This is really important because remaining distant from movements and passing out money is a very limiting way to help. There are many more ways funders could use their power to support these movements. At the same time, it's also really important that they're not controlling or second guessing social movements with that positional power.