International organisations and the future of work: How new technologies and inequality shaped the narratives in 2019

Publication Type:



Journal of Industrial Relations, Volume 62, Number 3, p.477–507 (2020)


future of work, Inequality, International Labour Organization, international organisations, labour income share, new technologies


In a critical review of seven prominent flagship reports from five international organisations – the International Labour Organization (ILO), Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and World Bank – this article explores how the policy narratives set out during 2019 and early 2020 have characterised the major future of work challenges associated with new technologies and inequality. It identifies some similarities in viewpoints, including about the unevenness of job changes caused by new technologies and about the declining labour income share, a key measure of inequality. However, there are major points of differentiation. The ILO, OECD and UNDP express serious concerns about the interaction between new technologies and growing inequalities, on the one hand, and a rise in precarious work, concentration of corporate power and erosion of labour bargaining power on the other. Also, UNIDO emphasises the inequalities in technological capacities between developed and developing countries, which make it difficult for markets to distribute the gains from growth evenly. While the World Bank makes some concessions, it remains less open to real-world heterodox evidence about how labour markets function in society. The World Bank aside, there is a growing consensus that labour institutions around the world need to be reinvigorated in order to respond to the challenges facing the future of work.