Switzerland: ILO Says Digital Divide Looms Large

GENEVA -- Despite improvements in labour market performance in industrialized countries and the growing potential of information technology to create jobs and spur development, the global employment picture remains "deeply flawed" for workers in many parts of the world, according to a new report by the International Labour Office (ILO).

The ILO's "World Employment Report 2001: Life at Work in the Information Economy" finds that despite the communications revolution taking place in the world today, increasing numbers of workers are unable to find jobs or gain access to the emerging technological resources needed to ensure productivity in an increasingly digitalized global economy.

In addition, the latest World Employment Report also finds that, given its different speed of diffusion in wealthy and poor countries, the information and communications technology (ICT) revolution is resulting in a widening global "digital divide."

The report says that unless this is addressed urgently, the employment aspirations and productivity potential of millions of workers in scores of developing countries cannot be realized. Access to the technologies and ensuring that workers possess the education and skills to use them are the fundamental policies that developing countries need to consider, the report notes.

"The ICT revolution offers genuine potential, but also raises the risk that a significant portion of the world will lose out," said Juan Somavia, Director-General of the ILO. "Let us strip out the hype. What is left? What's left is its effect on peoples' lives, wherever they live. We need to promote policies and develop institutions which will let everybody benefit. And it won't happen on its own."

Among key findings of the report are:

  • As of 2001, as much as one-third of the world's workforce of three billion people are unemployed or underemployed. Of these, about 160 million people are openly unemployed, 20 million more than before the onset of the Asian financial crisis in 1997, and despite strong signs of economic recovery in most of Asia;

  • The global economy will at least have to maintain its current pace of expansion in order to generate the 500 million new jobs needed during the next decade just to accommodate new entrants to the labour force and reduce the current number of unemployed;

  • Throughout the world, the major turnaround in employment fortunes has only been in OECD countries where overall unemployment has declined sharply from the double-digit figures of the mid-1990s and even the incidence of long-term unemployment has dipped in recent years, from 35 to nearly 31 per cent;

  • Despite the phenomenal growth of ICT in the industrialized world and its increasing penetration into developing countries, vast swathes of the globe remain "technologically disconnected" from the benefits of the electronic marvels revolutionizing life, work and communications in the digital era;

  • ICT provides an "enabling potential" to improve women's lives. But the report does find that a "digital gender gap" is apparent within countries, as women often find themselves occupying lower-level ICT jobs while men rise to higher paying, more responsible positions.

"ICT can and will provide benefits for women," Mr. Somavia said, "and it is one of my highest priorities to make sure this digital gender gap doesn't grow wider, that women are not left behind on the digital highway."

The World Employment Report 2001: Life at work in the information economy is available on CD-ROM (in English) from ferranco@ilo.org, tel. +41.22/799. 7781, fax +41.22/ 799. 6095. Publication of the full report in book and CD-ROM format is scheduled for June 2001. Press contacts: Ms. Zohreh Tabatabai (tel.: +41.22/799.6027) or Mr. Tom Netter (tel.: +41.22/799.7973). Fax No. +41.22/799.8577, e-mail: communication@ilo.org

AMP Section Name:Technology & Telecommunications
  • 192 Technology & Telecommunications

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