From its creation in 1919, the ILO has recognized the importance of cooperatives as a means of pursuing its mandate to achieve social justice and full employment. Under the ILO Constitution cooperative organizations have a consultative status. The ILO remains the only specialized agency of the UN with an explicit mandate on cooperatives. Cooperatives Unit has been a formal institutional entity within the ILO since 1920. The work of the unit is guided by the international standard on cooperatives, the ILO Promotion of Cooperatives Recommendation, 2002 (No.193). The Unit provides services for the ILO constituents on development of cooperatives and the wider social and solidarity economy (SSE) in close collaboration with the relevant partners through policy advice, capacity building, research, and development cooperation projects.
There is broad agreement that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are vital to achieving decent and productive employment as they globally account for two-thirds of all jobs and also create the majority of new jobs. Therefore, the promotion of SMEs has been a key area of intervention for the ILO. Its advisory services on SME policies are in high demand among ILO member countries. The ILO provides added value because of its focus on both the quantitative and qualitative aspects of employment creation and the fact that it serves constituents that provide a large potential outreach.
The 2019 report Small Matters: Global evidence on the contribution to employment by the self-employed, micro-enterprises and SMEs draws on a new ILO database. This report provides an up-to-date and realistic assessment of the global contribution of self-employment and micro- and small enterprises to employment – both in the formal and the informal economy. This ground-breaking study reveals that seven in 10 workers are self-employed or in small businesses, a finding that has significant implications for employment and enterprise support policies world-wide.
The Unit focuses on building the capacity of governments, social partners, and enterprises to promote and apply the MNE Declaration by providing policy guidance to governments on maximizing social and economic benefits of MNE operations, developing information resources to encourage coordinated approaches between governments and enterprises, and providing training and supporting capacity building.
With an emphasis on social justice, the ILO's Social Finance Programme supports efforts to extend financial services to excluded persons by addressing two main goals:
-The promotion of better employment; and
-A reduction in the vulnerability of the working poor.