ILO Office for Japan supports a special dialogue session on the future of the social and solidarity economy in Tokyo

On the 17 June 2023, the Institute for Solidarity-based Society (Rengo Institute) at Hosei University, with the support of the ILO Office for Japan, held a public lecture on 'Special Dialogue Session: The Future of the SSE” in Tokyo, Japan.

News | 21 June 2023
Mr. Takasaki, Director of the ILO Office for Japan, participated in the special dialogue session as a discussant. This special lecture, part of a six-lecture series by the Rengo Institute, was attended by about 50 participants.

Conducted in a hybrid mode, the first part of the lecture consisted of a presentation by Professor Emeritus Kenji Tomizawa of Hitotsubashi University. The keynote presentation on "Thinking about the future of the social and solidarity economy (SSE): Expectations towards the ILO" was followed by a discussion between Prof. Tomizawa and Mr. Takasaki, and a question-and-answer session with the participants.

Prof. Tomizawa is an economist who has been involved in trade union and cooperative activities for over 50 years. He is the Chairperson of the Japanese Society for Co-operative Studies and Secretary-General of NPO organizations. He conducts research on cooperatives and participates and presents in research conferences of the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) among others.

He started his presentation by underlining the importance of non-profit organizations, such as cooperatives, as part of a third sector alongside the public and private sectors. He also reflected on the development of the market economy and the introduction of initiatives for the social and solidarity economy by the ILO and at the World Social Forum.

Prof. Tomizawa raised two issues: proposals for measures to make the social and solidarity economy easier to understand and SSE related information dissemination in Japan, and what are the core issues that appeal to people to promote the social and solidarity economy. He posed the following questions to Mr. Takasaki:

(1) How to raise the interests of the Japanese government, workers’, and employers’ organizations in the social and solidarity economy, which seem to be low at present.
(2) In the general discussion on decent work and the social and solidarity economy at the 110th session of the ILC, especially in the process of finalising the definition of the social and solidarity economy, were there any points of conflict between the government, workers’, and employers’? On what points did they disagree and on what points did they agree?

At the outset of his interventions, Mr. Takasaki said that he is not an expert in the field of cooperatives and the wider SSE, like Prof. Tomizawa, so he would basically share his personal views today. Mr. Takasaki started by explaining the importance of the society aiming to achieve social justice through the practice of fairness and equity. He then pointed out that the public and private sectors, and the actors of the SSE, can influence each other on social issues that arise when these two sectors conflict with each other, and play the role of the third actor involved in solving the problems.

Mr. Takasaki noted that in recent years the presence of the private sector in the market economies worldwide has become enormous and cannot be adequately managed by the public sector alone. He also pointed out that the impact of the global environmental crisis on human lives is making it difficult for people to continue their business activities as they are now and even to survive. He also explained that in this context, the private sector is called upon to incorporate elements such as the environment and human rights into its principles and values.

Mr. Takasaki expressed the hope that by incorporating not only profit-making as a corporate philosophy, but also other aspects such as consideration for the global environment and the protection of human rights, enterprises themselves will become entities that practice fairness and equity and will contribute to the realization of social justice as a bearer of a sustainable economy.

In response to Prof. Tomizawa’s questions, Mr. Takasaki said that on the first point, he was aware of the lack of interest among the Constituents in Japan, but that enterprises, especially those in the manufacturing industry, followed by financial institutions, were beginning to respond quickly to environmental and human rights issues, as overseas enterprises and investors were increasingly demanding that Japanese companies to respond to their environmental needs. On the second point, as a global trend, language on the SSE was included in two resolutions of the 111th International Labour Conference in June 2023. He noted that:
  • The proposed resolution and conclusions of the Recurrent Discussion Committee on Labour Protection submitted to the 111th International Labour Conference for adoption that were adopted at the plenary of the Conference during the morning sitting on 16 June, 2023 include in paragraph 24:

“24. The Organization should intensify knowledge development and capacity-building activities, particularly in relation to:
c) the interdependence between labour protection and sustainable enterprises, notably MSMEs, as well as labour protection and the development of the entities of the social and solidarity economy, and the interdependence between labour protection and the other strategic objectives of the Decent Work Agenda;”
  • In addition, the proposed resolution on a just transition of the General Discussion Committee that was adopted at the plenary of the Conference during its afternoon setting on 16 June, 2023 includes in its paragraph 21:
“21. Governments, in consultation with the most representative employers’ and workers’ organizations should:

(m) promote a conducive environment for social and solidarity economy entities to strengthen their capacity to contribute to the just transition;”
The facilitator, Prof. Kentaro Itami of the Institute for Solidarity-based Society of Hosei University, summed up the dialogue by pointing out that it is a good sign that enterprises have started to incorporate some SSE values and principles, alongside the environment and human rights as part of their own identity. He noted that we should keep a close eye on how the private sector as a whole is changing at the same time as it evolves to incorporate SSE elements and engage with the SSE.

Prof. Itami also pointed out that companies have been competing on a single axis of evaluation, the pursuit of profit, but that it is expected that evaluation axes such as contribution to and consideration of the environment and human rights will proliferate in the future, just as in the EU taxonomy. As far as Japan is concerned, small-scale economic activities in communities have existed for a long time and continue to exist in regions and specific places. He mentioned that although such local and community driven nature of the SSE is essential, the important point is that those local economic activities would connect to an international social movement and momentum around the SSE. He noted that at a recent lecture, the concept of 'bridging (or tsunagaru in Japanese) economy' was proposed as a simple methodological term to describe the social and solidarity economy in Japan. However, in Japan the understanding has not yet reached the stage where everyone can identify with the term when they hear it, as in the case with 'Buen vivir' in Latin America. It was concluded that it would take some time for a consensus to be reached in Japan, but that this lecture series and himself will continue to keep a close eye on the development.

During the question-and-answer session, a question was raised about whether it is possible to keep trying in the age of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, given the complexity of the problems to be solved and the diversity of actors involved, which makes it difficult to solve them in the first place. Mr. Takasaki pointed out that initiatives such as just transitions, digitalization and standardization are being implemented worldwide, that the introduction of environmental contribution indicators in taxonomies in the EU will spread to Japan in the future. He noted that Japanese organizations urgently need to establish a system that can respond to such initiatives. He added that incorporating the values of the SSE in the activities of private companies will lead to a sustainable economy, i.e. the implementation of fair and equitable practices and the realization of social justice.

Other questions expressed concern about the significant population decline and an aging society that Japan will face in the near future and the decline of community initiatives in rural towns and villages. One question raised concerned the disadvantages of the Japanese government's promotion of the compact city concept, which would transform the lives of rural and suburban residents, based on helping each other and their neighbours, into the isolated lives of city dwellers. Prof. Tomizawa responded that in the search for new human relationships in the modern society, the SSE itself is about connecting people and creating a better life. Other participants suggested that attracting young people from abroad to study in Japan from their high school age and encouraging them to settle in Japan would make it possible to secure a workforce in Japan.

Finally, Prof. Woo Jongwon, Director of the Trade Union Programme, Institute for Solidarity-based Society, Hosei University, made closing remarks. He pointed out that the aim of the SSE is for people to lead "vibrant lives" and that it is necessary to consider how work and labour can be involved in this. Prof. Tomizawa introduced the translation of decent work in different languages, noting that the German word "Menschenwürdig" translates as "humane work" and that Prof. Woo's view on the relationship between decent work and the SSE was an important perspective. In relation to the dissemination of the concept of well-being, Mr. Takasaki commented that when considering what constitutes well-being, labour and work are involved and that shareholders, companies and investors also need to take these concepts into account.