Two important volunteering policy developments

By on March 10, 2014

In recent months, there have been two important developments in volunteering policy that will impact the ongoing efforts to highlight volunteer labor in Europe and around the world.
First, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has officially adopted volunteering as a form of “work” that should be measured along with the other measures of employment regularly produced by national statistical agencies. Second, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has issued an opinion on statistical tools for measuring volunteering, and strongly recommends countries follow the standards set forth in the International Labour Organization Manual on the Measurement of Volunteer Work for doing so.

The ILO Resolution
The International Labour Organization’s International Conference of Labour Statisticians (ICLS) meets once every five years in Geneva to consider possible updates to the framework of international standards that most countries follow for measuring labor.
In its most recent meeting, the 19th ICLS adopted a resolution identifying volunteering as a form of unpaid “work,” – an unpaid activity that produces a good or a service for organizations or persons outside of the household on a non-compulsory basis.
The resolution identifies this type of activity as distinct from “own-use production work” (defined as goods and services people produce for their own final use); “employment work” (defined as work performed for others in exchange for pay or profit); “unpaid trainee work” (defined as work, such as apprenticeships, which is performed for others without pay to acquire workplace experience or skills); and “other work activities” (not defined in this resolution).
The term “work” does not imply that the activity is paid or that it is absent of its voluntary and altruistic nature. Rather, including volunteering as a subset of work means that the tangible and invaluable contributions volunteering makes to individuals and society are being recognized as a force that should be tracked and measured so that it can be better supported and fostered.

The EESC Opinion
In another development, the European Economic and Social Committee has issued an opinion on statistical tools for measuring volunteering. The opinion calls on the European Commission to first, put in place the conditions necessary to work on a standardized methodology for research into volunteer work; and second, to ensure its adoption via an appropriate regulation for the purpose of regular research conducted by the Member States.
In so doing, the opinion encourages making use of the main principles of the ILO Manual on the Measurement of Volunteer Work, and taking into account the experiences of countries which have already undertaken research using the solutions described in the Manual. Though non-binding, this opinion clearly lays out the rationale for a common methodology among EU member states for measuring volunteering, and the importance of using the standards set out in the ILO Manual for doing so.
The EESC opinion also calls for the introduction of “legal measures binding at the EU and Member States level which would enable the non-profit sector to co-finance public grants with the economic value of volunteer work estimated on the basis of solid statistical data produced with the statistical tools developed in accordance with this opinion.” Indeed, at least one EU institution has already followed suit: At its meeting in December 2013, the Programming Committee on Youth of the Council of Europe agreed on a method to recognize the time given by volunteers to youth activities supported by the European Youth Foundation, making it the first European structure to do so.

These developments present an important opportunity to move the effort we are making through the VMP forward on a wide scale. The resolution passed by the ICLS opens the door to making the gathering and reporting of basic data on volunteering standard internationally. And, by highlighting the ILO Manual in their opinion, the EESC has not only validated its methodology, but has paved the way to Europe-wide adoption, which can in turn lead to a series of valuable comparisons among countries that can help surface the most effective efforts being made to support the volunteering infrastructure in Europe.
Cross-posted from