Francis Blanchard

Director-General of the International Labour Organization, 1974-1989

Document | 13 May 2010

Francis Blanchard (France) began his career as an international civil servant in 1947 when, at the age of thirty-one, he joined the International Refugee Organisation (IRO). Mr. Blanchard remained at the IRO until it ceased to function and was actively associated with the setting up of its two successor bodies, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration. In 1951, Mr. Blanchard joined the ILO where his first assignment was as deputy chief of the Manpower Division, in which capacity he was involved with the ILO's initial technical cooperation activities in vocational training and manpower, which were financed by the United Nations and the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation.

In 1956 the ILO Director-General, David Morse, appointed Mr. Blanchard to the position of Assistant Director-General in charge of a wide range of activities concerned with research and technical cooperation relating to economic questions, social security, manpower, vocational training, management development and other matters. In that post, Mr. Blanchard was closely involved with the founding of the Turin Centre and its programme of work. Following the reorganisation of the Office in 1964, Mr. Blanchard was given overall responsibility for the ILO's technical cooperation work, requiring day-to-day contact with the United Nations Development Programme and supervising all Office activities concerned with preparing and carrying out UNDP-financed programmes. Mr. Blanchard also organised and guided the work of the field offices which had gradually begun to take over responsibility for technical cooperation.

In 1968 Mr. Blanchard was appointed Deputy Director-General with responsibility for technical cooperation and field activities. Two of the ILO's major new tasks were brought under his supervision - providing assistance to developing countries and planning the decentralisation of the ILO's activities. In November 1973, the Governing Body appointed him Director-General, a responsibility that Dr. Ammar had shouldered since the tragic death of Wilfred Jenks.

As Director-General, Mr. Blanchard oversaw the expansion of ILO technical cooperation programmes, and therefore, to some extent changed the image of the Organisation. The ILO also faced serious financial difficulties at this time which required cuts in expenditure. Mr. Blanchard succeeded in averting major damage to the Organisation when a crisis resulted in the withdrawal of the United States from the Organisation (1977-1980), resulting in the loss of a quarter of the budget. Mr. Blanchard fought hard to uphold the universality of the Organisation. The United States returned to the ILO at the beginning of the Reagan Administration, and in 1983 China returned to active membership of the Organisation, thus making universality of the Organisation a reality, as well as greatly increasing its responsibilities in Asia.

During this period, the ILO resolutely continued its work in defence of human rights. Thus, the ILO played a major role in the emancipation of Poland from dictatorship, by giving its full support to the legitimacy of the Solidarnosc Union based on respect for Convention No. 87 on freedom of association which Poland had ratified in 1957. Another landmark of Mr. Blanchard's term as Director-General was the High-level Meeting on Employment and Structural Adjustment held in 1987. This was the first time that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund participated actively alongside governments, trade union and employer members of the ILO's Governing Body. Because of his personal initiative and leadership, the ILO and many other relevant international agencies had become actively involved in devising strategies and implementing policies to overcome poverty and adverse social changes as a result of international debt and structural adjustment.

As Director-General, Mr. Blanchard worked hard to spread the word of the ILO as widely as possible and to extend its activities to the informal sector. In 1989, Mr. Blanchard retired from the ILO after 38 years of service to the Organisation. He died in Morges (Switzerland) on 9 December 2009.