Interview with Sara Hoeflich de Duque, Programme Manager at United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG)

In this interview, Sara Hoeflich de Duque, Programme Manager at United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) provides an in-depth analysis of the role of local authorities in promoting the Decent Work Agenda at the local level and also reflects more broadly on their contribution to implementing the new sustainable development agenda more broadly.

— How can urban-rural policies be successfully implemented to maximize synergies in quality job creation within and between sectors, what do local governments do, and what is needed?

— Ensuring jobs, well-being and social protection are crucial tasks for any elected politician. Labor policies and economic development programs are just as relevant to our members – local authorities and mayors –as they are to national leaders.

Work environments in cities and rural areas have changed: the industrial sector has lost importance in urban economies, the rural workforce is decreasing and 50% of the world’s population lives in cities. In particular in the South, many poorer people making their living in cities are self-employed or work in the informal sector. This leads to new challenges related to service provision and financing, labor policies and social protection.

In practice, most social and economic development is promoted and implemented at local level, in the thousands of cities and municipalities around the world. Many local leaders enable businesses to be established and perform well, and jobs to be created and protected, although local authorities rarely have legal frameworks or sufficient public investment at their disposal to do this. In response, local strategies often develop and create the necessary synergies between different government levels and the private sector. Urban growth is currently occurring in African and Asian intermediary cities in particular, which have a strong relationship with their surrounding territories. Rural populations need access urban services, but they can represent an important market for agricultural products. The city of Pasto in Colombia, for example, offers opportunities for local farmers to sell and promote their products whilst residing in fertile areas close to the city center. This mitigates their vulnerability to the impacts of urbanization, which increases the cost of natural resources like land and water. This situation particularly benefits women, many of whom are able to continue their agricultural work selling their products directly from their homes, raise children and access education at the same time.

Decent work policies in urban-rural relations are about productivity, consumption and access to urban and rural services. The city of Bordeaux, France, offers support for economic clusters to promote local products, like fruit or wine, as beyond the export business, new small-scale businesses develop (a kind of “city trademark”).

This presents opportunities for both rural areas, in terms of rural production increasing value added to agriculture and enabling markets of proximity, and for cities, which can promote a territorial identity and culture.

Local development strategies are a good way to ensure transparent participation in development decisions of community and private sector. However, Local governments need support and capacity to maximize synergies in quality job creation within and between sectors.

— What is the role of local authorities in in terms of respecting and promoting labor standards or holding multinational corporations accountable?

— Local governments are important employers. National or provincial capital cities are often the largest employers in the territories. Allow me to quote an example from the city of Stuttgart, who is a very active member of UCLG: the city of Stuttgart has 20,000 public employees for less than 600,000 inhabitants. Besides administration, this includes workers in transport, basic services and specific services like the municipal hospital and airport. This enables the council to apply decent work criteria on a large scale, such as for youth and gender policies, or the inclusion of the disabled. Further, the council can influence supply chains through procurement criteria, for example, privileging products that do not use child labor, or fair trade products. 

However, labor standards can also become a challenge, in particular in intermediary cities, where economic opportunities and labor markets are smaller and depend more on local resources. When large employers move away, or when enterprises condition land use permits or tax incentives, local authorities can face a conflict. The example of the mining city of Newcastle in South Africa illustrates this: The mining company was privatized and evaluated labor costs to be too high – South Africa has a minimum wage policy – and so closed the mine. The city cannot absorb the consequences of unemployment brought about by this closure, and is struggling to maintain services.

— What are the challenges faced by local governments and the benefits in promoting the transition from the informal to formal economy?

— The informal economy is a key topic, particularly, although not exclusively, in cities in the South. The informal economy cannot be ignored since it represents a reality that concerns a large part of the population. The first step to dealing with this is to revise the language used to describe this sector, as it is perceived as exclusive: informal sounds similar to illegal.

The informal economy is a major challenge for local governments, who need to provide services and develop inclusive policies and social protection. Similar to the challenge of informal housing, also informal economy is a challenge. Informal workers are vulnerable to abuse and mafia structures.

 The transition – formalizing the economy requires time and technical and financial resources, information, and organization. Local governments need to provide social services with transparent criteria, applicable to all citizens. The experiences of non-governmental and faith-based organizations have been important in social work. The city of Porto Alegre, for example, works in partnerships with local NGOs, building opportunities for the communities of waste pickers. The city council is committed and supported (through participatory budgeting) by the citizens to reduce vulnerability in this community on city wide scale, cooperates with NGOs that take part in social attention, child care or community organization.

In Brazil, a key action of the national program to lift millions out of poverty was the creation – or registration – of millions of microenterprises. Those entrepreneurs do not only pay taxes and fees, they participate in health and pension schemes and receive social protection. They report their incomes and are no longer counted as “poor”.

Local governments are crucial partners in national programs, but they are also developing their own policies to support this transition. Local governments encourage “informal actors” to participate in the urban economy. Economic development programs are helping to formalize microenterprises, a process that highlights the many women working from their homes or in public spaces, accompanied by their children, in particular.

In Africa, the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated in 2009 that as many as nine in ten rural and urban workers have informal jobs.  According to World Bank statistics, the share of the informal economy to GDP in cities is more than 50%. It is very important for local governments to know both the sources of income of its population, and where they work. They are losing income at municipal level, through unpaid taxes and fees.

For example, the city of Durban-eThekwini in South Africa is the first African city with a policy for informal trade and street vending. Their business support unit enables thousands of street vendors to organize themselves, to manage and participate in services like cleaning and waste management, and to access services like childcare. Although the city is investing in public spaces and markets that are used by street vendors, the maintenance of services is already financially sustainable. The inclusion and recognition of the street vendors is beneficial to the city as a whole, with better hygiene and safety, and a reduction in abuse, corruption and crime.

— How can UCLG and others reinforce the capacity of local actors to promote decent work?

— Local economic development and decent work are political tasks. Capacity building cannot be limited to technical levels; leadership also needs to be supported. Many members of UCLG focus decentralized cooperation on local economic development: trough city–to-city cooperation or through capacity building between local government associations. Those groups, in particular small and intermediary cities, are interested in applying tools, designing policies and promoting local entrepreneurship.

However, it is very important to build capacity through learning and training involving leaders and their territories. UCLG’s peer learning agenda, which includes, South-South and triangular cooperation, has encouraged much practical exchange and the development of local policies. It demonstrates the spirit of solidarity between cities that want to change and apply successful practices. The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs supports UCLG through a grant (CityFuture project) to enable this cooperation.

The CityFuture project allowed practitioners from cities and associations who are committed to professional, decentralized South-South and triangular technical cooperation to connect, and, more importantly, to facilitate changes and apply knowledge in their cities; particularly in intermediary cities. In some countries like Mozambique, Malawi and Brazil, the large number of cities involved demonstrates their political will and willingness to contribute to the national reform agenda.

The ILO also became a key partner for the UCLG learning agenda, with a specific focus on decent work and local economic development. UCLG and the ILO signed an MOU in order to promote advocacy and city-to-city cooperation on decent work and local economic development.

Peer leaning events were hosted by the cities of Maputo (Mozambique), Chefchaouen (Morocco) and Pasto (Colombia). These enabled an exchange of experiences between cities of the region and important partners, universities and non-governmental organizations.

Frequently, during these seminars, cities agree to cooperate bilaterally on a specific topic, for example:

Applying the example of their partner city of Durban, mentioned above, Maputo has now designed its first policy for informal street vending, The two cities conducted several visits and reviewed their bylaws, policies and community involvement. This is the first time a Mozambican city has addressed the issue of informality with a concrete policy that recognizes the rights of informal vendors and opens opportunities for them. The national law simply forbids street vending, and the question of access to work for the urban poor is largely ignored at national level.

The Chefchaouen Development Agency shared their innovative experience of supporting small-scale economic clusters and activities. At the request of the Beninese association ADECOB, who wished to improve their support structure for LED in their municipalities, a peer review was conducted that included field visits and working sessions in Benin with municipalities, stakeholders and development partners. The Chefchaouen team trained on the practical application of instruments (SEFED and OSM) to analyze and map the situation and opportunities.

Given the rapid urbanization in western Africa, UCLG and the ILO will continue to evaluate and offer practices to be immediately applied. The methodology to gather Politicians and practitioners works well and more practices link to the process. For example the city of Pikine, Senegal that is currently supporting cooperatives for informal female workers might tell their story in Odienne in Ivory coast, and assist the mayor in addressing similar challenges.

— How can the Sustainable Development Goals and labour policies be localized?

— The MDGs were agreed upon by national governments, but the review of the MDGs shows that the success of many of the goals depended on their implementation at local level. Local government provides basic services like water and sanitation, infrastructure, slum upgrading and prevention, and planning for cities that allows all citizens to access services. They fight against poverty following mandates given by communities. The lack of local ownership of the goals, as well as insufficient resources at the local level to implement them, have been identified as major weaknesses of the MDGs.

As with the localization of MDGs, it is important to inform and track the implementation of decent work principles. Many local government visions involve fair trade, local and social development, and inter-local governmental cooperation, instead of competition alone. One key challenges of cities is to be competitive (enabling environment for business, economic development and investments in order to attract activities and investors) without competing between each other (avoid lower labor, environmental and fiscal norms)

For UCLG, the ‘localization’ process started with UCLG President Topbaş’ participation in the High-Level Panel of eminent persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which enabled the participation of sub-national governments . At the same time, the essential role that local and regional governments, alongside communities and private sector actors, play in delivering a new development agenda has been recognized more widely in a number of official inputs to the Post-2015 process. The High-Level Panel Report (2013) made this clear, as did the preamble to the report from the United Nations Sustainable Solutions Network.

The outcome document of the High-Level Panel (2013) made clear references to the role of cities and local governments, as did the preamble to the report from the United Nations Sustainable Solutions Network. The introduction to the Open Working Group outcome document has also been key, since it refers to Rio+20 and its commitments to Agenda 21, and recognizes the role of local authorities in implementing sustainable development objectives. The “localization” dimension is clearly embodied in SDG 11 – a dedicated ‘urban’ goal included in the OWG outcome document. SDG 11 is ‘local’ by design as it is meant to be owned and delivered by sub-national urban governments.

Now we need to foresee proper cooperation for a meaningful implementation of the SDGs. In practical terms, it is necessary that all UN agencies cooperate more directly and openly with local governments. Regarding economic development and labor, the ability of local governments to make LED initiatives more sustainable must be acknowledged. Local labor aspects need to be taken into consideration when targets and indicators are agreed.

In particular, cities and governments in the global South have many experiences to share, and their capacities to make more decisions based on their local contexts must be improved. Cities and leaders can learn from each other, and UCLG peer learning formats enable the immediate action or implementation.  An encouraging example is the South-South and triangular cooperation of UCLG with the ILO referred to above, which has been enabling cities and local authorities to share experiences in peer learning and build capacity on informal economy and rural urban policies in Africa and Latin America.   

In October 2015, UCLG, together with the ILO and UNDP, will co-organize the 3rd World Forum on Local Economic Development hosted by the city of Turin. We expect this event to be another milestone in developing a useful agenda for the promotion, localization and implementation of the SDGs, including decent work and local economic development.

Share Your Comments

Only members can comment, Click here to sign up for free right now

(Your e-mail address will not be published)
Submit Review
No Comments Yet