A global safety net

President, Agence du service civique, France

©Mark Armstrong

In October 2011, a high-level panel headed by the former president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, delivered a ground-breaking report to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, arguing that everyone around the globe should receive a living income, guaranteed through transfers in cash or in kind, such as pensions for the elderly and persons with disabilities, child benefits, income support benefits and/or employment guarantees, and services for the unemployed and working poor. Martin Hirsch, a member of that panel, explains why this proposal for a more socially responsible globalisation can work. 

The Bachelet report on the social protection floor, which was submitted in October 2011 to the UN secretary-general, features a number of innovations as compared to previous work on the same subject.

First of all, it breaks with the idea that social protection is the ultimate stage of development—a privilege of the rich countries. It shows that countries with low per capita income can establish customised social protection floors which can be improved gradually over time.

Next, it shows that social protection is not a hindrance to growth. Emerging countries have in fact been able to achieve and sustain high growth rates while at the same time broadening social protection and expanding the share of wealth they devote to programmes aimed at the population at large. Such is the case, for example, in Brazil, which in recent years has reduced poverty and lessened inequalities while still maintaining a high rate of growth.

The proposal relies on numerous examples of mechanisms allowing social protection to be tailored to countries where the informal economy plays a major role, but where solving that problem need not be a prerequisite.

The report has also succeeded in making social protection an international challenge, which is something new. It is in the interest of the international community as a whole to see the level of social protection rise throughout the world; some reasons for this are controlling pandemics, reducing migratory imbalances and achieving economic stability. Embraced in the G20’s final declaration in Cannes, for the first time the social protection floor made its way into an international forum that, until now, had focused its work almost exclusively on the economic and financial dimensions of globalisation.

The social protection floor, states the report, is a crisis prevention instrument. It is also a necessary perspective for achieving and extending the millennium development goals. It factors in the prospects for aging: by 2050, 80% of people over 60 years of age will be living in poor or emerging countries.

While the Bachelet report recommends that each country devote domestic resources to funding the social protection floor, it acknowledges that international solidarity can hasten the process in the poorest countries by topping up their own efforts. In this regard, it reiterates that social protection comprises not just insurance schemes, but elements of supply as well. It is useless to have health insurance if there are no hospitals, doctors or drugs available to the entire population.

Likewise, the issue of conditional cash transfers is one that can be found in a variety of forms in countries with very different levels of protection. In Brazil, it is the Bolsa Família, which ties family allowances to children’s schooling and to preventive health programmes. But in a country like France as well, a condition for family allowances is pre- and postnatal monitoring, and there has been debate over the advisability of suspending allowances as a sanction for school truancy.

In many countries, due to the linkage between social benefits and earned income means, care must be taken not to create disincentives to work. It is not easy to institute a minimum income—a condition of the fight against extreme poverty—without running the risk of creating inactivity traps. In South Africa, creating the minimum pension for the elderly had repercussions on the activity of the children and grandchildren of those receiving the pensions. In France, a far-reaching reform was carried out recently to avoid having a return to work result in a drop or a stagnation of income. Making work pay is a concern that is common to all countries.

The way in which the Bachelet report was prepared removed a number of major obstacles; but everyone knows that the road ahead is long and arduous, hence the report recommends several valuable tools.

The report proposes experimental methods to demonstrate the effectiveness of social protection programmes and allow for their gradual extension on the basis of validated outcomes. For example, preventive health programmes for schoolchildren influence truancy, scholastic outcomes and salary levels, with a “return on investment” for the economy of any country that implements them.

Another tool put forward is the use of new technologies that can deliver cash transfers either to cell phones or through biometric recognition of the beneficiaries of such aid. It also urges involving civil society, alongside national governments, to tailor social protection to the cultural and social characteristics of each country and not impose it artificially.

It is important to ensure that, following the conceptual progress made in 1991, the issue of social protection remains on the international agenda. This means monitoring the progress that each country makes as well as the impact on how people live.

International Labour Organization

Hirsch, Martin (2011), Sécu objectif monde: le défi universel de la protection sociale, Éditions Stock, Paris.

See also:

Social Protection Floor for a Fair and Inclusive Globalization Report

G20's final declaration in Cannes

The UN Millenium Development Goals 

©OECD Yearbook 2012

Economic data


Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive print editions delivered to you directly

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • IMF Finance and Development Magazine, December 2015

    Powering the Planet: The Quest for Sustainable Energy

    Read the magazine here
    Visit their website
  • In Iceland, geothermal power is being used for almost everything. Scientists and engineers from around the world are participating in a course at the United Nations University (UNU) to learn how to use geothermal energy in their own countries.
  • They are green and local--It’s a new generation of entrepreneurs in Kenya with big dreams of sustainable energy and the drive to see their innovative technologies throughout Africa. blogs.worldbank.org
  • Pole to Paris Project
  • Send a message from #EarthToParis.
  • From the World Bank: Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty
  • Black carbon causes millions of deaths every year and contributes to the warming of the planet. The United Nations Environment Programme explains how reducing black carbon can save lives and help combat climate change.
  • In order to face global warming, Asia needs at least $40 billion per year, derived from both the public and private sector. Read how to bridge the climate financing gap on the Asian Bank of Development's website.
  • How can cities fight climate change?
    Discover projects in Denmark, Canada, Australia, Japan and Mexico.
  • 10 climate-friendly habits everyone should adopt: Although the main aim of COP21 is to reach an international agreement on climate change between government stakeholders, it is also the perfect opportunity to remind citizens of how everyone can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their day-to-day lives.
  • Climate: What's changed, what hasn't, what we can do about it.
    Lecture by OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, hosted by the London School of Economics and Aviva Investors in association with ClimateWise, London, UK, 3 July 2015.
  • Do you know the OECD’s web ending? Or which Serbian American engineer is famous for his electric cars? Try our latest OECD Observer crossword. It’s full of fun facts, simplex in style, and gives you the solution at the tip of a button. You can time yourself too.
  • French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron came to the OECD on 18 September for a webcast discussion on economic reforms, inequality and the outlook, with OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. You can watch the event by clicking on the photo.

  • Climate change: “We should not disagree when scientists tell us we have a window of opportunity–10-15 years–to turn this thing around” argues Senator Bernie Sanders.

  • In the long-run, the EU benefits from migration, says OECD Head of International Migration Division Jean-Christophe Dumont.
  • Is technological progress slowing down? Is it speeding up? At the OECD, we believe the research from our Future of ‪Productivity‬ project helps to resolve this paradox.
  • An employee prepares breakfast in front of the Eiffel tower at the Parisian luxury hotel Le Plaza Athenee. Nowhere in the world has more accommodation available on Airbnb than Paris. Now the home-sharing website that has transformed budget travel is giving super-deluxe hotels a fright too.
    ©REUTERS/Stephane Mahe
  • Is inequality bad for growth? That redistribution boosts economies is not established by the evidence says FT economics editor Chris Giles. Read more on www.ft.com.
  • Low interest rates here to stay for half a century, says OECD director Adrian Blundell-Wignall.
  • Bill Gates visited the OECD on 26 June. He met with the Secretary-General Angel Gurría to discuss areas of collaboration with his foundation and participated at a briefing session on official development assistance modernisation with OECD experts.
  • The People’s Republic of China decided to enhance longstanding collaboration with the OECD and to join the OECD Development Centre, in a historic visit by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on 1 July to the OECD in Paris.
    Read about it on OECD.org
  • Catherine Mann, OECD Chief Economist, explains on Bloomberg why "too much bank lending can slow economic growth".
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at www.oecd.org/careers .
  • Come va la vita in Italia? How's life in Italy? The OECD Better Life Index is an interactive online platform in seven languages that goes beyond GDP by offering important insights into measuring well-being and quality of life. Try it for yourself!

Most Popular Articles


What issue are you most concerned about in 2015?

Euro crisis
Global warming
International conflict

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2015