International Community and Civil Society

100 Years of International Labour Organization, 100 Years of Commitment to Social Security

The ILO established the right to social security and today recommends Social Protection Floors. That move is crucial, says Ebenezer Durojaye.

To celebrate 100 years of the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors launched a statement outlining the path towards universal social protection for all. We talked to Ebenezer Durojaye of the Coalition about why social security remains one of the most important issues of our time, and about the ILO's role in advancing the right to social security in the past and present.

FES: What has been the ILO’s role in promoting social security?

Ebenezer Durojaye: Since its establishment in 1919 the ILO has put social protection at the centre of its activities. Indeed, the ILO has become the world’s number one point of reference when it comes to the issue of social security/protection.From its Declaration of Philadelphia in 1944, where for the first time the right to social security was recognised internationally, the ILO has adopted series of international instruments, including Recommendations and Conventions elaborating on the right to social protection.  It should be noted that General Comment 19 on the right to Social Security adopted by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was greatly influenced by the norms and standards developed by the ILO. Due to the enduring efforts of the ILO  there now exists a new branch of international law known as international social security law.

The ILO’s Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention, 1952 (No. 102) remains the flagship social security instrument. It is unique for both its conceptual formulation of social security, and the guidance it provides for establishing social security systems. The Convention gives a broad notion of social security by classifying social security systems into nine standard branches, namely: health care, sickness, old age, unemployment, employment injury, family and child support, maternity, disability, and survivors and orphans.

What are Social Protection Floors and what does the Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors (GCSPF) stand for?

In 2012 the ILO adopted a follow up instruments in the form of Recommendation 202 on Social Protection Floors, which not only expands the normative framework for the extension of social security by introducing the concept of nationally-defined social protection floors that guarantee at least access to essential health care and basic income security throughout the life course, it also adopts a rights-based approach to social protection.

The Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors promotes the right of all people residing in a country to social security, regardless of documentation. We promote social protection floors as key instruments to achieve the overarching social goal of the global development agenda. The Coalition operates within a worldwide network structure without formal headquarter, secretariat, and sponsorship department. The Coalition communicates with ILO, the UN Inter Agency Board on the SPF and other relevant organizations as well as contributes to international and regional forums.

Why is social protection a key factor for reaching the sustainable development goals?

As a Coalition we believe that social protection is one of the foundations for inclusive, equitable and sustainable development. It can simultaneously address the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainability and preservation of livelihoods. The overarching goal of the SDGs is to eradicate poverty. This can only be achieved if states across the world, particularly in developing countries are committed to ensuring universal social protection to vulnerable and disadvantaged groups.  The adoption of well-coordinated social protection programmes will go a long way in addressing poverty and inequality within a country as well as advance the realisation of socio-economic rights of vulnerable and marginalised groups. For instance, social protection can help in addressing food insecurity, thereby advancing the right to adequate food. In addition, social protection programmes can help in realising the right to education of vulnerable and marginalised children. This is evident in cash transfer and school feeding programmes.  More importantly, social protection programmes can facilitate access to health care services as well as mitigate the impact of unemployment and poverty through cash transfers and other unemployment benefits.

The GCSPF claims that universal basic social protection is within reach. What action needs to be taken at the national and the global level to make it happen?

There is need for political commitments at national and international levels. Government across the world should stop paying lip service to social protection but must take urgent steps to committing resources to sustainable and equitable social protection programmes grounded in human rights standards.

Finally, what are your birthday wishes for the ILO?

Having come this far in advancing the right to social protection, it is hoped that the ILO will continue in its efforts to ensuring universal access to social protection worldwide. More importantly, it is hoped that the ILO would continue to champion the call for a rights-based approach to social protection globally.


Ebenezer Durojaye is a senior researcher and head of the Socioeconomic Rights Project at the Dullah Omar Institute, University of the Western Cape, South Africa.

Konstantin Bärwaldt

+49 30 269 35-7501


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Sarah Ganter
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