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110th Session of the International Labour Conference: interview with Yvon Poirier, RIPESS Special Advisor

An interview conducted on May 20, 2022, before the 110th International Labour Conference.



Active since 2004 in the Intercontinental Network for the Promotion of the Social Solidarity Economy (RIPESS), Yvon Poirier has been a RIPESS representative since 2014 to the United Nations Inter-Agency TaskForce on the Social Solidarity Economy (UNTFSSE).


RIPESS emerged in the 2000s, following the Globalization of Solidarity meetings, organized every four years in a different country, the first of which took place in Lima in 1997. Subsequently, a second meeting was held in Quebec City in 2001. The formal creation of RIPESS as a network took place at a meeting in December 2002 in Dakar. RIPESS continued the cycle of continental meetings, alternating between South and North, holding meetings in Dakar in 2005, Luxembourg in 2009 and the Philippines (Manila) in 2013.



Good morning Mr. Poirier, and thank you for accepting this exchange. To begin with, can you go back over the development of the SSE up to the present day, thanks to your many experiences in the field?


After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the capitalist system was established as the dominant economic and development paradigm that would meet the needs of humanity. However, in the face of increasing crises and growing inequalities from the 1980s onwards, an alternative economic model is gradually being developed. For example, in France, the Réseau de l’économie alternative et solidaire (REAS) was created in 1992. In 1997, at the first Meeting of the Globalisation of Solidarity held in Lima, more than 300 actors (micro-enterprises, NGOs, cooperatives, students, trade unions, etc.) met and noted the hegemony of an unequal capitalist development model that was harmful to the planet.


Following the 2008 crisis, which revealed a highly deregulated and unstable system, the alternative of a social and solidarity economy gradually gained ground in international organisations (UN, OECD, ILO). During a regional conference of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Johannesburg in 2009, the social economy was recognised as a development factor for Africa. The SSE Academy was created as a result of this conference: the first one was held in 2010 in Turin, and the 12th and latest one was held last year (2021) in Portugal.


SSE gained visibility at a meeting organised by UNRISD (UN research institute) in Geneva in May 2013. The immediate follow-up to this meeting was the creation in 2013 of the UNTFSSE. From that year onwards, the documentation (research, studies, reports, etc.) produced on SSE multiplied, including for the elaboration of the UN Agenda 2030. In this framework, RIPESS notably participated in a global consultation of 90 organisations in 2013, in which SSE was recognised as an important approach for achieving the SDGs.



What role does the ILO play in the development of SSE?


Cooperatives, of which SSE is historically composed, have been recognised by the ILO since its creation 110 years ago. Various conferences have been held on cooperatives and significant progress has been made on this issue.


A first attempt was made in 2019 to have the discussion on SSE included in the 2020 International Labour Conference. While the employees (trade unions) and some states were in favour of this, the employer’s representation disagreed and proposed another topic. Due to the lack of consensus at state level, the topic proposed by the companies was retained.


SSE was finally selected in March 2021 to be the topic for general discussion at the 110th International Labour Conference (ILC) in 2022.


As the ILC brings together all the countries of the UN system, the Conference has made it possible to adopt conclusions that will have a universal scope.


RIPESS was granted observer status (remotely) and was asked to intervene.



What definition of SSE does the International Labour Office propose?


According to RIPESS, the definition/description of SSE proposed by the ILO is quite broad and provides a good account of what the different entities in the sector are. However, amendments and clarifications will certainly be made.


This definition will enable RIPESS to continue to advocate for stronger alternatives. RIPESS is aware that the ILO cannot officially recognise that the dominant capitalist system is not adequate, but this work on defining SSE will allow an alternative to be put forward.


RIPESS would like to support the fact that SSE is not only a social sector: it is necessary to recognise and support the fact that SSE is an economic sector, which participates in the economic activity, operating in particular in the private sector and creating economic value and jobs.



In relation to the theme of the 110th session of the ILC, what are the challenges and opportunities for SSE to advance decent work and sustainable development?


SSE is an important lever to enable people to access formal organisations and to reduce the share of the informal economy in countries where it remains very high. In this sense, the development of the SSE constitutes a form of social protection for the populations.


According to RIPESS, it is also essential to include more women and young people in employment policies (following the example of the dynamics currently observed in Africa). Women are historically strongly represented in SSE organisations (e.g. through cooperatives) and SSE is an important lever for creating green and decent jobs for women as well as for young people.


A major challenge for SSE remains the issue of financing. RIPESS advocates for international financial institutions to allocate funds for the development of SSE. Currently, organisations such as the World Bank or the African Development Bank are able to lend millions to multinationals, « but cannot lend 5,000 euros to an SSE SME that would set up in Bamako ». The idea is to develop intermediate levels of financing that would be managed by networks or multi-partner structures at the country level.


The funds currently available are, according to RIPESS, captured by the organisations that hold the dominant economic system. For example, funds made available for the achievement of the SDGs are captured by large corporations (among others, to help them become greener), but very little is given to communities to help them organise and participate in the achievement of the SDGs.



What actions and measures should the Bureau take to promote SSE for a people-centred future?


The potential adoption of a resolution on SSE by the UN will be a huge step forward, which will be very positive for the ILO’s work.


According to RIPESS, the ILO will have to integrate the needs from the field by the different countries in the elaboration of its action plan. The ILO’s action plan should thus support a community-based approach, taking into account the needs of the populations and promoting their organisation in networks.


This approach will require developing cooperation/collaboration between the different SSE stakeholders, and in particular opening and encouraging dialogue between states, grassroots actors and SSE networks. This could take the form of national multi-stakeholder meetings. According to RIPESS, experience shows that the most advanced countries on SSE are those that have engaged in initiatives of co-construction of public policies (no « top down » approach).



Going further: what is the relationship between SSE and economic growth?


The notion of economic growth is complex. For some, it means an increase in GDP. However, we know that an increase in GDP can be synonymous with an increase in inequality in a country. A multi-factor human development index therefore makes more sense.


Growth itself is also a problem for humanity, since our ecological footprint on the planet is larger than what the planet is able to renew. This footprint is extremely uneven. Most so-called developed countries have a footprint of 2 to 4 planets, while sub-Saharan Africa has a footprint of about 0.25 planets. It is thus clear that the planet-depleting growth in the « rich » countries cannot continue without driving humanity into a wall.


SSE offers, including in developed countries, the capacity to produce and consume differently, locally and regionally, outside of global supply chains that are efficient at maximising profits but harmful to the planet and humanity.


While SSE alone cannot solve these problems, it is part of the solution. The position paper and the report proposed by the Office provide a way forward.


For « poor » countries, economic activity needs to develop to provide sustainable livelihoods, decent jobs, moving people towards a more formal economy, social protection, etc. Thus, there needs to be growth in the economy, and the economy needs to become more sustainable. So, there must be growth in these sectors. But it must be generated in a different way, taking into account the human and the planet.


However, it is deplorable that the companies currently pushing the 3Ps (People, Planet, Profit) still seem more interested in profits than in a long-term sustainable economy.



Going further: Should SSE be considered as part of the third sector or the private sector?


SSE has a dual role.


SSE entgerprises, associations and other structures that produce goods and services are in the private sector, as much as companies with share capital.


This is not always easy to get recognised. Ever since the SSE has existed, there has been a strong pressure to relegate it to the social sector, in that it would only take care of the poor, marginalised etc. Many critics argue that the SSE sector is solely dependent on public funds and is not a « real » economy like the traditional private sector. However, many companies, for example in the construction sector, get 100% of their income from government contracts and nobody criticises this.


SSE enterprises produce goods and services similar to those of the so-called classical (private) enterprises. Their difference lies only in the ownership, of people and not of capital, and therefore in their mode of governance, which is democratic.  In this sense, SSE belongs to the private sector and not to a third sector.


The private sector has different sub-sectors: companies, small enterprises (about 90% of private enterprises have 2 or 3 employees), self-employed (about 25-30% of the workforce) and social economy (ownership is social). On the principle of one person, one vote.


Furthermore, at the national level, SSE is often attached to the ministries of economy, if not part of the economic strategies of their states.


At the international level, several countries, supported by UNTFSSE, including its observer members, such as RIPESS, support the adoption of a UN resolution on SSE. The aim is to get this topic on the General Assembly agenda later this year. France is one of the countries that has signed up to this process.


The second role or mission of SSE is as important as the first one: SSE is at the heart of social movements of civil societies that refuse the domination of an economic system dominated by « profit above all ».


SSE works with many civil society organisations, such as trade unions, feminist movements, indigenous peoples, etc. It is possible to say that RIPESS is on the side of all organisations that fight against inequality, poverty, lack of social protection. Not to mention the fight against climate change. Our approach is based on the fundamental human rights enumerated in the Universal Charter, Article 25, Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.


This is related to the dual nature of the SSE movement. Indeed, according to RIPESS, it is impossible to « leave no one behind », as stated in the preamble of the Agenda 2020, only through the economic component. It also requires legislation, tax justice, efficient public services, no tax havens, etc.