Michel Hansenne

Director-General of the International Labour Organization, 1989-1999

Document | 13 May 2010

Michel Hansenne (Belgium) was born on 23 March 1940. At the age of twenty-three, he obtained a doctorate in law, and then went on to gain a degree in Economics and Finance from the State University of Liège. Between 1962 and 1972, Mr. Hansenne worked as a researcher at the State University of Liège before embarking on a career in politics. In 1974, Mr. Hansenne became a member of the Belgian Parliament. He held several ministerial positions in the Belgian Government: Minister of French Culture from April 1979 - December 1981; Minister of Employment and Labour from December 1981-May 1988; and Minister of Civil Service from May 1988 to March 1989.

While serving as Minister of Employment, Mr. Hansenne continued to research and to write, publishing several articles in national and international journals, as well as the book entitled "L'emploi: les scénarios du possible". He believed it was important to try to link theory with practice, to adapt industrial relations to the social and economic realities of the times with particular regard to unemployment, employment and training.

In 1989, Mr. Hansenne was elected to become the eighth Director-General of the ILO, the first of the post-Cold War world. The decade during which he was Director-General was marked by a number of events and developments which fundamentally changed the problems with which the ILO had been concerned. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism, the questioning of development models and of aid to third world countries, the doubts expressed on full employment in industrialized countries, and the emergence of globalization, forced the Organisation and its secretariat to review their methods of work and the instruments used to carry it out.

Re-elected for a second term in 1993, Hansenne indicated that his primary responsibility was to lead the ILO into the 21st century with all the moral authority, professional competence and administrative efficiency which the Organisation had demonstrated for 75 years.

The most significant debate in the ILO during this period concerned globalization, the liberalization of trade and the social clause. On 18 June 1998, the International Labour Conference adopted the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, which states that, by virtue of their membership, all ILO Member States have an obligation to respect, promote and realize the principles underlying fundamental worker's rights, even if they have not ratified the core ILO Conventions. Mr. Hansenne worked hard to steer the Organisation through the difficulties involved in achieving institutional renewal and in gaining international acceptance for the principle that the demands of social justice required the ILO Declaration to be universally adopted. He also tried to give the ILO the means to play a full part in major international fora concerned with economic and social development. Mr. Hansenne also set the ILO on a course of greater decentralization of activities and resources under the ILO's Active Partnership Policy. In 1999, he published the book, "Un garde-fou pour la mondialisation. Le BIT dans l'après-guerre froide", which describes the history of the ILO and his efforts to steer the Organisation through rapidly changing times.

In 1999, Mr. Hansenne became a member of the European Parliament, a position which he still holds today.