OECD Secretary-General

BIAC Liaison Committee Meeting (LCM): Role of Business in Lifelong Opportunities – People first Policies to Bridge Divides


Remarks by Angel Gurría

OECD Secretary-General

Paris, France - 13 January 2020

(As prepared for delivery) 




Cher Phil, Cher Russel, Chers Ambassadeurs, Mesdames et Messieurs,

C’est avec un très grand plaisir que je vous accueille à la réunion du Comité consultatif économique et industriel (BIAC) auprès de l’OCDE de cette année. Je remercie notamment Russel Mills, Secrétaire Général du BIAC, pour l'organisation de cet événement important.

Aujourd’hui, nous aborderons le thème du « rôle des entreprises dans la création d'opportunités tout au long de la vie - Des politiques axées sur les populations afin de surmonter les clivages », en nous interrogeons tout particulièrement sur ce que les entreprises peuvent faire pour relever les défis les plus urgents.


A changing world of work

The rapidly changing world of work is an important challenge that we face today. According to OECD estimates, 14% of existing jobs could disappear as a result of automation in the next 15-20 years, and another 32% are likely to change radically. Already today, 62% of workers in OECD countries use numeracy and literacy skills at a level that computers are close to reproducing.

In addition, the digital transformation will create new job opportunities, which will require individuals to have a stronger set of cognitive, social and emotional skills. This, in turn, has major implications for education and training policies.

Foundation skills will become a minimum threshold for accessing labour market and future learning. Yet, today, almost one in four students in OECD countries do not reach the minimum proficiency level in reading, science and mathematics. And close to one-fifth of adults have a literacy and numeracy proficiency below the level expected from a 10-year old child.

Moreover, learning should cover all stages. Adult learning is particularly critical to preventing skills depreciation and easing the transition to digital intensive and expanding sectors. Yet, only 40% of low-skilled workers receive firm-based training, despite their jobs being at higher risk of automation.

To tackle these challenges, employers must foster a learning mind-set in the workplace, and give employees in non-standard contracts equal access to training opportunities. Employers benefit from training their workers: our research shows that productivity gains surpass the increase in wages that employers pay to trained employees. And training employees in-house can address specific skills needs of firms.

Moreover, public-private partnerships are key to leverage the complementary roles that the public and private sector have, and improve the design and implementation of public policies in education and training.


Persistent gender gaps

The significant gender gaps that persist in the labour market are a further important challenge that we face. In 2018, the OECD average labour force participation rate for women was less than 67% – almost 16 percentage points below that of men. While in 2017, the gender wage gap was still 13.5%.

Gender gaps persist, especially as women continue to spend far more hours on unpaid work than men do. Businesses can help close these gaps by arranging flexible working hours for men and women, and by encouraging take-up of paid paternity leave.

OECD research shows that fathers who take paternity leave stay more involved as children grow up . Fathers who participate more in childcare report greater life satisfaction and better health, and raise children who enjoy higher cognitive, emotional and physical health outcomes.


Challenges in health and pension systems

Last but not least, as we discussed at the 4th BIAC Forum on Health last October, businesses are also key players in helping us to tackle pressing challenges in health and pension systems.

Take obesity, for example. Our recent report ‘The Heavy Burden of Obesity’ shows that nearly one in four adults in OECD countries is obese. And one of the main drivers of this epidemic is the environment that we live in. Too often, unhealthy food is the cheapest and, in many cases, the only, available option.

Many of the efforts that are critical to reducing obesity – such as reformulating foods – can’t be made without industry. In Australia, for example, the government is working with the industry to develop reformulation targets. And in Spain, a reformulation action started in 2016 and today involves 20 agreements with food sector associations.

Employers also play an essential role in promoting longer working lives. Despite being banned in almost all OECD countries, perceptions of age discrimination remain widespread. We need sustained efforts to better enforce anti-discriminatory legislation but also to move away from seniority-based practices for setting wages and from age-based hiring and dismissal rules.


The crucial role of business for lifelong opportunities

Businesses and their employees are the powerhouses of our economies. Globally, trust in business has increased from 49% to 56% in recent years and surveys from Edelman and Deloitte have indicated that communities are increasingly turning to business leaders to take the lead to effect positive change.

Business can make meaningful contributions in all policy areas, ranging from education and skills, to the labour market and health, as well as tackling the pressing environmental challenges we face today. For instance, it is key to increase the role of business in financing climate-resilient infrastructure needs, which we estimate at 6.9 trillion US dollars annually to 2030.

Businesses are also seeing growing responsible business conduct expectations from their customers, investors, and stakeholders to pursue better outcomes for people and their communities at large. In developing countries, where the SDG gaps are the widest, businesses can play a key role in bringing us closer to meeting the targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Business also has a crucial role to play in the reframing of our global tax system. There is much discussion of the business community’s equities in the current negotiations. But business’s largest equity lies in having a deal at all. Some believe that a cure to the current international tax patchwork may be worse than the disease. But have no illusions: left unchecked, today’s disease will grow to a plague. So stand up and be counted. Make sure your governments know that the future of your enterprises and the jobs you create depend on finishing the job of international tax reform this year.

At the G7 Summit last year, we launched the Business for Inclusive Growth platform (B4IG). A coalition of 40 leading companies, with 3 million employees, and a combined revenue of 1 trillion USD have made clear commitments to fight inequalities and contribute to social and environmental sustainability.


The OECD’s engagement with BIAC 

Empowering people has been at the centre of the OECD’s work. Our joint work with BIAC has made a difference.

Only two months ago, BIAC Secretary General Russel Mills joined us at the Global Strategy Group meeting as part of the Civil Society Roundtable on Ageing Societies, where we discussed the role of business in promoting life-long learning.

BIAC’s network is also a regular fixture at our annual OECD Forum, both in planning and in practice. Our close working relationship greatly enriches the agenda each year, fostering debates on a broad range of issues, including gender, trade, the future of work, fintech, responsible business conduct and social protection.


Ladies and Gentlemen:

As we forge ahead, we very much look forward to strengthening our partnership with BIAC and ensuring that businesses continue to provide good jobs, to empower people and communities and to focus on protecting our planet. Thank you.



See also:

OECD engagement with BIAC


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