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Public Private Partnerships - privatizing the ILO?

In March 2008 the ILO govering body decided to open the door to what are called "Public Private Partnerships" (PPP's). Quite why is not clear but presumably there was consensus that such things would be useful both in themselves and also for the ILO itself. Presumably it was also felt that they could do no harm.

In IUF sectors we have seen a rapid take up involving several millions of dollars of corporate money heading into the ILO's budget. The world's chocolate industry led the way, Japan Tobacco International were next and now the Mars Corporation is apparently back for more. And these are the ones we know about!

In all cases one constituency of the tripartite ILO body at least, the workers, were consulted late, almost casually, only as a result of making some noise and largely on the back of a "fait accompli" with a lot of preparatory work already complete. However leaving aside what I believe this represents in terms of a long-term threat to the triparitie principles of the ILO I am wondering whether there is not a far greater potential danger to the ILO.

The ILO is facing budgetary problems of course. This is particularly the case in an era of austerity and savage budget cuts by many of its major funders. In such a scenario it must be tempting to plug some of the holes with corporate money. Tempting but might it also be potentially dangerous? If a queue develops at the ILO's finance office with individual companies or industry groups offering up PPP's in significant numbers, each accompanied by a substantial cheque, the whole balance of the ILO could be threatened.

The tripartite basis of the ILO can be put under stress as mentioned earlier but also eventually the integrity and independence of the ILO itself. At what point would a level of PPP corporate funding start to tilt what is in reality a delicate balance? I have no idea but what I do know is that funding will most likely grow and potentially grow significantly. I also know that companies will find a way to use their cooperation with the ILO to boost their corporate social responsibility images and as a result potentially  influence at least an ethical investor community if not other stakeholders and even customers. These PPP's will in any event not be secret. That's a short journey from appearing in corporate CSR reports or something similar and no signed undertaking promising not to do so will curb the enthusiasm of corporations’ public communications departments!

There may as yet be no crisis. However this all needs careful monitoring and might eventually need a vigorous review of PPP's in the ILO's governing body before allowing a growing body of PPP's and cash to damage the only tri-partite UN structure we have and the only structure charged with putting an international regulatory floor under our rights at work.

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