The ILO Social Protection Floors Recommendation of 2012, also known as ILO Recommendation 202, provides a commendable bolster to previous social protection agreements established by the ILO (ILO, 2012). However, the ILO Social Protection Floors Recommendation of 2012 suffers from two principal drawbacks, one of which is in the name: that the Social Protection Floors Recommendation is at this point simply that – a recommendation. The other disadvantage emerges in that the level of autonomy provided to member and signatory states potentially hampers any broadly agreed-upon measures to ensure social protection policies and standards, regarding social security in particular – one of the principal types of social protection programmes that the Recommendation addresses.
History and foundations of the Social Protection Floors Recommendation of 2012
The Social Protection Floors Recommendation of 2012 ‘was adopted in 2012 – with 453 votes in favor and one abstention – with a view to providing meaningful guidance to countries for the design, implementation, and monitoring of social protection floors and social security extension strategies aimed at progressively achieving universal social protection’ (Solidar Foundation, 2019). In setting these goals, the Social Protection Floors Recommendation of 2012 proved to be a particularly ambitious document. However, the very ambitiousness of the document may also ultimately pose a challenge to its utility in establishing a broadly enforced social protection regime, and one focused on social security in particular.
The Social Protection Floors Recommendation of 2012, at the very least, provides an ample foundation for future efforts toward ensuring universal social protection, with social security at its core. The Recommendation ‘focuses on ensuring coverage for the unprotected, poor, and vulnerable’ (Better Care Network, 2012) by means of ‘establishing national social protection floors’ (Better Care Network, 2012), and thus setting clear standards and guidelines for its signatories. The Recommendation draws on the ILO’s already proven history of overseeing the establishment of agreements between member states to ensure that those states and their leaders are ‘on the same page’ regarding social protection policies.
The Social Protection Floors Recommendation of 2012 adds an additional layer to these extant foundations. Most notably, as one of its most tenable goals, the Social Protection Floors Recommendation of 2012 maintains a strong focus on bolstering social security programmes within signatory states. In fact, a principal focus of the Social Protection Floors Recommendation of 2012 is that of ‘acknowledging that the right to social security is, along with promoting employment, an economic and social necessity for development and progress’ (ILO, 2012). From that basis, the text of the Recommendation may be viewed as a springboard for ‘building comprehensive social security systems and extending social security coverage’ (Better Care Network, 2012, para. 1).
The Social Protection Floors Recommendation of 2012 not only builds on existing agreements, but lays reasonable groundwork for the potential future enhancement of social protection programmes by national governments, if not necessarily the adoption of universal social protection. However, the Recommendation also faces obstacles to implementation. Such obstacles occur in the form of its perceivable lack of ‘tangibility’, as opposed to a more binding agreement such as a formal treaty.
Potential flaws in monitoring and enforcement of the ILO Social Protection Floors Recommendation of 2012
The Recommendation proves promising for ensuring the commitment of states to social protection programmes, as well as affirming that ‘subject to their existing international obligations, States should provide the basic social guarantees to at least all residents and children’ (OHCHR, p. 18). Although the Recommendation ‘is a short document […] its actual content and the potential breadth of its political repercussions seem to remain unknown’ (Cichon, 2014). The history of the document is too minimal to evaluate extensively, but it proves necessary to explore its potential impact, as well as its potential challenges.
Since the document is relatively young, it remains fairly untested. Nevertheless, the potential of the Social Protection Floors Recommendation of 2012 is considerable, and it has already found its way into policy dialogue. The document was cited in a 2016 meeting of ASEAN member states regarding the extension of social protection programmes, including social security, to migrant populations (ASEAN, 2016, p. 2). While this demonstrates one example of a scenario in which states verbally affirmed a commitment to the principles laid out in the Social Protection Floors Recommendation of 2012, it would be difficult to prove that this affirmation was not merely lip service. Additionally, any overview of the document must also assess its vulnerabilities in relation to the goals of individual states.
Although the document displays great potential, it becomes clear that it also faces significant challenges. Some of these challenges are written into its very wording. The portion of the document that reads ‘subject to their existing international obligations’ (OCHR, p. 18) arguably forms a potential caveat in the sense that signatory states may maintain competing priorities, due to either domestic or international political struggles, that stand in opposition to the broad affirmation contained within the Recommendation. Additionally, the recommendation also generally suffers from a lack of any particular means of enforcement, as well as the general ‘softness’ of the word ‘recommendation’ – as opposed to some of the prior agreements and treaties upon which the Social Protection Floors Recommendation of 2012 is founded.
Although the Recommendation ‘calls upon States to prioritize the implementation of national social protection floors as a means to achieve universal coverage’ (ILO & WIEGO), there is no guarantee that signatory states will answer that call. As the Social Protection Floors of Recommendation of 2012 is not a full treaty, it is feasible that states may maintain a ‘take it or leave it’ approach to the Social Protection Floors Recommendation of 2012. This is particularly the case if the leadership of a given state feels that the content of the Recommendation clashes with internal political pressure or national priorities based on perceived temporary needs.
The Social Protection Floors Recommendation of 2012 clearly positions itself as a template for future action. The text of the Recommendation constructs a shared set of norms by which states have the potential to operate in ensuring the human rights of their citizens in the form of social protection programmes, and social security in particular, with the ultimate aspirational aim of universal social protection. However, although the Social Protection Floors Recommendation of 2012 is a relatively young document, and thus it might be impractical to extensively address its history, it still faces challenges in the form of the actions of states in circumstances in which they decide that the text of the Recommendation does not serve their immediate national interests.
ASEAN. (2016). Recommendations: the 9th ASEAN forum on migrant labour, 9-10 November 2016, Vientiane, Lao PDR. Accessible: https://socialprotection.org/discover/publications/recommendations-9th-a...
Better Care Network. (2012). Social security for all: the Social Protection Floors Recommendation (Briefing Note). Accessible: https://socialprotection.org/discover/publications/social-security-all-s...
Cichon, M. (2014). ILO Recommendation 202 is not a legal island. UNRISD. Accessible: https://socialprotection.org/discover/publications/ilo-recommendation-20...
ILO. (2012). R202 – Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No. 202). Accessible: https://socialprotection.org/discover/publications/r202-%E2%80%93-social...
ILO & WIEGO. Labour and human rights frameworks promoting childcare for all workers. Accessible: https://socialprotection.org/discover/publications/labour-and-human-righ...
OHCHR (2014). Social protection floors and economic and social rights. Accessible: https://socialprotection.org/discover/publications/social-protection-flo...
Solidar Foundation. (2019). ILO releases its general survey on the implementation of the Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No. 202). Accessible: https://socialprotection.org/discover/news/ilo-releases-its-general-survey-implementation-social-protection-floors-recommendation