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Day 10: 108th International Labour Conference

ILO heads, past and present, spotlight social justice

Three ILO Directors-General – past and present – discussed the social justice mission of the International Labour Organization. The discussion was held on the penultimate day of the Centenary International Labour Conference.

News | 20 June 2019
Photo album and video recording of the session
GENEVA (ILO NEWS) – ILO Director-General Guy Ryder was joined on Thursday by two of his predecessors for a conversation based on the credo of the International Labour Organization: “If you desire peace, cultivate social justice.”

The event was held at the plenary of the International Labour Conference (ILC), which has seen some three dozen world leaders congratulate the ILO on its 100th anniversary and express commitment to its social justice mandate.

Ryder, Michel Hansenne, who headed the ILO between 1989 and 1999, and Juan Somavia, who succeeded him until 2012, noted the ILO’s ability to adapt to change, which they said is one of the reasons the organization is still relevant today and will remain so in the future.

“It’s important to point out how much the ideal of social justice remains an ideal that is anchored in people’s hearts,” said Hansenne. “We have a role, a mission, and a way of doing things, which is capital,” he said, adding, “We must believe in ourselves.”

“The entire work of the ILO, and of this Conference, amounts to reminding States that if there is no international social justice, there can be no peace.”

He recalled how the ILO had adapted to the deep changes the world experienced during his tenure, including the end of the Cold War, the end of Apartheid, and the early days of globalization.

Somavia spoke of the Decent Work Agenda that was launched while he headed the ILO. “Every country, developed or developing, was worried about what was happening on the employment side.”

“We took the traditional work of the ILO around rights, social protection, social dialogue, etc. and we put it in a much more global context of saying we have to distinguish between the cost of work and the value of work.”

Decent work, he said, “is a source of personal dignity… it’s an essential part of our being, decent work is a source of family stability… it’s a form of peace in the community.”

He added that he had no doubt the ILO would be able to adapt to the deep changes transforming the world of work. “We have to have complete trust in ourselves, but trust does not mean we cannot change.”

Ryder thanked his predecessors for what he called “a tremendous message of confidence, of self-belief in this Organization.”

“It comes from two things: One is our adhesion to values… we believe in this mandate of social justice. And, secondly, the record of achievement over 100 years. This ‘wild dream’ as it was once phrased has produced results, it works. We have the tools at hand to produce results.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres is due to address the ILC on Friday, the last day of the two-week annual Conference, which is being attended by some 5,700 delegates.

Representatives of governments, workers and employers wrapped up discussions on a Convention and Recommendation on combating violence and harassment in the workplace, which will be presented for adoption by the plenary on Friday.

Participants are also considering the adoption of a landmark Centenary Declaration with a focus on the Future of Work, one of the main issues discussed during the ILC.