Juan Somavia elected to second term as ILO Director General.

News | 25 March 2003
Juan Somavia, a Chilean and the first representative of the Southern Hemisphere to head the International Labour Office (ILO), was overwhelmingly re-elected to a second term as Director-General today. He pledged to “work together for a new social contract based on decent work for all and a globalization that leaves no one behind”.

Mr. Somavia received a second five-year mandate from the ILO Governing Body. He formally begins his second term in March 2004.

Mr. Somavia called today’s vote an endorsement of the ILO’s ongoing efforts to “deliver dignity to workers and decency to work. Work is central to people’s lives and people everywhere are asking for solutions. We are responding to that call for decent work”.

Over the past four years, the ILO has launched the Decent Work agenda aimed at promoting workers’ rights, employment and enterprise creation, social protection, and social dialogue at the national, regional and international level. Under Mr. Somavia’s tenure, the organization has seen an unprecedented surge in ratifications of international labour standards.

In addition, the ILO has established the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization – a top-level panel to promote international dialogue on ways to make globalization more inclusive and fair.

“Because we have voiced the concerns of people, the ILO is relevant, visible and in demand,” Mr. Somavia said. “We are reaching out and teaming up with international partners. We are moving ahead. Decent work is at the heart of improving people’s lives and it is the key to eradicating poverty around the world.”


Juan Somavia, Director-General
International Labour Organization

Juan Somavia was elected to serve as the ninth Director-General of the ILO by the Governing Body on 23 March 1998. His five-year term of office began on 4 March 1999. An attorney by profession, Mr. Somavia has had a long and distinguished career in civil and international affairs, serving as a diplomat in the Foreign Ministry of Chile and holding numerous positions at the United Nations and other inter-governmental organizations:

1990 - 1999 Permanent Representative of Chile to the United Nations in New York.

1996 - 1997 Representative of Chile on the UN Security Council, including President of the Security Council in April 1996 and October 1997

1998 - 1999 & 1993 - 1994 President of the UN Economic and Social Council

1993 - 1995 Chairman of the Preparatory Committee and Secretary-General of the World Social Summit for Social Development, Copenhagen

1991 - 1992 Chairman of the Social Committee of the UN Economic and Social Council

1990 - 1991 Chairman of the UN General Assembly Third Committee on Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs

1970 - 1973 Executive Secretary of the Latin American Free Trade Association in Chile

1970 - 1973 Ambassador of Chile to the Andean Group

1970 - 1973 Member and Chairman of the Governing Body of the Andean Group

1968 - 1970 Ambassador and Adviser to the Foreign Minister of Chile on Economic and Social Affairs, responsible for multilateral issues including the ILO.

Mr. Somavia's early career began in the academic field. He was a Lecturer on Economic and Social Issues in Trade Policy Courses of GATT in Geneva from 1967-1968. In 1971, Mr. Somavia became Professor of International Economic and Social Affairs in the Department of Political Science at the Catholic University of Chile, during which he highlighted the ILO and its tripartite structure as a case-study in international cooperation. Between 1976-1990, he was Founder, Executive Director and President of the Latin American Institute of Transnational Studies, during which he undertook several studies on trade union and social movements in Mexico City and Santiago. From 1996 to 1999, Mr. Somavia has served as Chairman of the Board of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD).
Development cooperation and economic and social affairs have been major interests throughout Mr. Somavia's career. During the late 60s, while working in GATT, he played an active role in the participation of developing countries in the Kennedy Round. From 1970-1973, Mr. Somavia served as Member and Chairman of the Board of the Andean Development Corporation in Caracas, and worked intensively in favour of regional integration. Between 1977-1995 he served as Member of the Executive Committee of the International Foundation for Development Alternatives in Nyon, Switzerland. He has been a Member of the Advisory Committee of Development Dialogue, published by the Dag Hammarskjold Foundation, for more than 25 years.
Mr. Somavia participated actively in the restoration of democracy in Chile through holding the presidency of the International Commission of the Democratic Coalition in Chile, and as founder and Secretary-General of the South American Peace Commission 1986-1990. For his contributions to peace and human rights, he received the "Leonidas Proano Peace Prize", presented to him by the Latin American Human Rights Association.
Mr. Somavia has been actively involved in business, financial and civil society organizations for many years. As Executive Secretary of the Chilean-Argentinian Chamber of Commerce he strengthened ties links between business communities of the neighbouring countries. Mr. Somavia was Coordinator of the Third World Forum, a network of African, Asian, Latin American and Caribbean social actors between 1976-1982, and has served as Chairman of the UN Committee of Parliamentarians for Global Action. Between 1976-1982, Mr. Somavia was Member of the Board and Vice-President for Latin America of the Third World News Agency, InterPress Service based in Rome. Together with Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mr. Somavia represented Latin America as a Member of the MacBride Commission on International Communications, 1980-1982.
Mr. Somavia has written and lectured widely on trade, labour and human rights, and holds numerous citations and awards for his work regarding peace, human rights, and social development.
Born in Chile on 21 April 1941, Mr. Somavia's early schooling took place in Chile, the Netherlands, Belgium, the United States and Ecuador. In 1958, he returned to Chile to study Law at the Catholic University of Chile. After graduating in 1962, he continued higher studies in Economic Development at the School of Law and Economics at the University of Paris.
Mr. Somavia is married to Adriana Santa Cruz and they have two children.