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G20 Governance of Social Policy:
Social Protection, Employment and Education

Caroline Bracht, Senior Researcher, G20 Research Group
November 12, 2015

As countries continue to try to overcome the issues of too few and too unstable jobs as well as stagnated growth, social policy has become central to their plans and consequently an issue for major global governance forums.

The G20's Framework for Strong, Sustainable and Balanced Growth was agreed upon in the depths of the 2008–09 financial crisis. Financial sector reforms were put in place and the power of leaders was used to shine a light on particular economic and financial issues as well as corruption and anti-protectionism. However, now in 2015 the global recovery has not been as strong as people would have hoped and strong, sustainable and balanced growth has not been achieved — even more daunting is the G20 task to lift the G20's gross domestic product by at least 2% by 2018. There is space for countries to do more.

While the core competence of the G20 is macroeconomic policy coordination and matters of financial regulation, over its first nine summits from Washington 2008 to Brisbane 2014, it has increasingly governed social policy and its related issues to achieve sustainability.

Some individuals projected that the slow start to govern social policy was due to the lack of social cohesion among G20 members. However, over those nine summits the macroeconomic-focused growth agenda has evolved to include references to "inclusive growth," "growth for all" and "growth with jobs." This more nuanced growth agenda requires leaders to include social policy and related fields into the G20 agenda.

For the purpose of this article, social policy includes social protection, employment, and education.

So how, how much and how well has the G20 governed these issues over its summits? The G20 Research Group measures this in several ways. One way is deliberation, which measures the number of words on a specific issue in the communiqué. Another is to count the number of commitments that are discrete, action-oriented statements with a distinct target. Another is to measure the implementation or compliance with a selection of these commitments.

Social protection has been a small but generally growing component of G20 governance. The G20 leaders first mentioned social protection in three paragraphs at their second summit in London in April 2009. Although support was minimal and general, they decided to allocate $50 billion for social protection, trade and development in low-income countries. At the Pittsburgh Summit in September 2009, again in three paragraphs, leaders identified the need to develop medium-term social protection plans and skills development policies to aid those at risk of losing their jobs. In Toronto in June 2010, social protection issues were mentioned in three paragraphs and the importance of social safety nets was incorporated into the Framework for Strong, Sustainable and Balanced Growth. The next summit, in Seoul in November 2010, attention to social protection jumped to nine paragraphs and focused on low-income countries expressed in the Seoul Development Consensus. At the 2012 Cannes Summit, the evolution of the social protection agenda continued with the leaders officially promoting nationally designed social protection floors and highlighting the importance of employment and social inclusion to growth. These sentiments were reiterated again at the following year in Los Cabos. The 2013 St. Petersburg Summit had by far the most emphasis on social protection with references in 46 paragraphs. It was here that country-specific actions were identified in the St. Petersburg Action Plan. At the most recent Brisbane Summit in one paragraph in the main communiqué, the leaders stated that they would fight structural and long-term unemployment by having appropriate social protection systems.

Although assessing how an issue has been deliberated is important, it is also key to assess the number and content of actual actionable decisions. A total of 38 commitments were made on social protection between 2009 and 2014.

The first commitment was to allocate $50 billion to World Bank mechanisms to support social protection, trade and development in low-income countries. The Pittsburgh Summit included four commitments linking social protection to employment creation and growth. In Seoul, the commitments again focused on developing countries and the need to support social protection for jobs. At the Cannes Summit the leaders made country-specific commitments on social protection and confirmed that social protection would stay on the G20 agenda. The commitments made at St. Petersburg focused more on employment, with attention also on the need to provide income support.

How well have the leaders implemented their social protection commitments?

The G20 Research Group has monitored five commitments that have an average implementation rate of +0.17 on its scientific scale, which translates to 59%. This is lower then the overall implementation score for all issue areas of +0.42 (71%). This suggests that the actual impact on national policy of G20 social protection governance is positive but weak.

The second area closely related to both growth and social protection is employment and labour policy.

Employment and labour has by far been the G20's most frequently and effectively governed social policy field.

In their deliberation, leaders have paid significant and increasing attention to labour and employment, rising from just one relevant paragraph at Washington, through to 30 paragraphs at Los Cabos, to peak at 80 paragraphs at St. Petersburg. This heavy focus at the St. Petersburg Summit can possibly be attributed to the summit's theme of jobs and growth.

At first, leaders acknowledged that effectively regulated financial markets were essential for employment. At the London Summit they committed to undertake fiscal expansion to save and create millions of jobs. The following year in Pittsburgh they dedicated a section of the communiqué to "putting quality jobs at the heart of recovery." It was at this summit that the Framework for Strong, Sustainable and Balanced Growth was introduced and required structural reforms to create a more inclusive labour market. The labour and employment ministers met prior to the Toronto Summit and the G20 acknowledged their collaboration with the International Labour Organization. At Cannes they committed to a global strategy for growth and jobs and emphasized rights at work and youth unemployment. Dialogue at Los Cabos focused on quality employment being at the core of macroeconomic policies and the leaders restated the principle that labour rights, social security and a decent income are essential to stable growth.

Leaders made a total of 126 labour and employment commitments over the nine summits, the most of any of the social policy pillar. The London, Pittsburgh and Toronto summits each concluded with a small number of employment and labour commitments. The first surge in decision making was at the Seoul Summit, with 15 commitments, half of which were directed toward low-income countries. Cannes followed with 16 commitments and a designated action plan for growth and jobs. The Los Cabos and St. Petersburg summits both concluded with a large number of employment commitments. The St. Petersburg commitments focused on tailoring national strategies to promote better, more formal and productive jobs. The Brisbane Summit concluded with 16 commitments on unemployment and a pledge that the labour and employment ministers report on progress in 2015.

The G20 Research Group has measured eight employment and labour commitments to assess implementation. The average compliance score was +0.75 (88%). This is much higher than the overall compliance average for all issue areas.


Education, skills training, retraining, apprenticeships and other educational tools can be crucial to attaining a job. However, the G20's performance on education has been less robust. Their governance of education started off slow with one general reference at the London Summit. At Pittsburgh the leaders spoke of education in low-income countries, and Toronto supported job training and skills development programs. At the Seoul Summit, deliberation on education diversified to include training individuals for the green growth sector, and pointed out the importance of both knowledge sharing and quality jobs. At Cannes leaders decided to launch a knowledge-sharing platform for tropical agriculture and employment skills in low-income countries. The Los Cabos Summit again added a slightly different focus, by supporting financial education and financial literacy. St. Petersburg had the most dialogue on education, on supporting more traditional educational opportunities, enhancing skills development for employment and integrating training programs to cover all development-related aspects.

In terms of tangible, action-oriented commitments, the London and Pittsburgh summits concluded with general commitments on education and training. Toronto failed to make any related commitments, but the Seoul Summit committed to develop internationally comparable skills indicators and to enhance national strategies for skills development. At the St. Petersburg Summit commitments to quality education, skills development and life-long learning were made. The Brisbane Summit concluded without any specific commitments on education.

The two commitments measured for implementation concluded with an average compliance score of +0.36 (68%), slightly lower than the overall average for all issues.


The assessment of G20 outcome documents shows that there is a strengthening of social policy governance at the G20. Three patterns stand out.

First, social policy performance as been small, relative to the G20's many core, more conventional topics of economics and finance.

Second, social policy governance has been closely connected to employment and labour first and followed by social protection and education.

Finally, third, all fields have been the subject of increased G20 performance, although each at a difference pace and in different ways. With the focus on inclusiveness at the 2015 Antalya Summit, the traditional growth agenda will likely be tightly coupled with employment, education and social protection commitments.

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