Lundi 22 Avril 2019  

N°124 - Quatrième trimestre 2018

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  M. / Mr Jean-Daniel Leroy

The International Labor Organization: a Thoroughly Modern Institution

By Mr. Jean-Daniel Leroy, Director of the ILO Office in France

2004 marks the 85th anniversary of the founding of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and its general secretariat, the International Labor Office. Both bodies were created by the Treaty of Versailles, in the exceptional circumstances that brought World War One to a close in 1919.
2004 is also the 60th anniversary of the Philadelphia Declaration, issued on 10 May 1944, in which the ILO reaffirmed “the aims and purposes of the organization as well as the principles that should inspire the policy of its members.”
After the Universal Postal Union, founded in 1874, the ILO is the world’s second oldest international organization. The ILO became the first
specialized agency in the United Nations “System,” back in 1946.
In the first article of the Declaration, the international community laid out the four main principles that guide the ILO:
a) labor is not a commodity;
b) freedom of expression and of association are essential to sustained progress;
c) poverty anywhere constitutes a danger to prosperity everywhere;
d) the war against want requires to be carried on with unrelenting vigor within each nation, and by continuous and concerted international effort in which the representatives of workers and employers, enjoying equal status with those of governments, join with them in free discussion and democratic decision with a view to the promotion of the common welfare.
The 1944 declaration clearly lays out all the key stakes and goals (on which there is still a great deal yet to be done): the human nature of labor; the link between political democracy, social democracy, and progress; the need to wipe out poverty everywhere; the importance of a
tripartite system and close involvement by “civil society.” As a result, the ILO may well be the world’s most modern organization, the one whose mission and structure are best suited to the demands of the 21st century.
The incredible longevity of the ILO may indeed stem from the fact that it is not an intergovernmental organization, wherein “reason of State” tends to rule supreme. Thanks to its unique tripartite structure, the ILO is jointly run by governments, workers, and employers. It promotes their legitimate and diverging interests, using sincere dialogue to reach effective consensus on concrete issues, as the organization carries out its three primary “tasks.”
First, the ILO’s primary task is formulating labor standards in the form of Conventions and Recommendations, which lay out international law governing every form of productive activity (industry, shipping, fishing, agriculture, the service sector, and even the so-called “informal economy”), and every aspect thereof (vocational training and rehabilitation, employment policy, labor administration, labor law, industrial relations, working conditions, management development, cooperatives, and social security). It also promotes the ratification of the aforementioned standards (186 ILO Conventions and 30 ILO Recommendations have received over 6,000 ratifications), and investigates and sanctions violations.
Secondly, the ILO works to ensure full respect for the “Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work” set out in its 1998 Declaration (abolition of illegal child labor, elimination of forced labor and discrimination in employment opportunities and treatment, freedom of association, the right of workers to join a union and the right of employers to organize, collective bargaining rights).
Next, the ILO has a research/action mission. It studies key information and major microeconomic and macroeconomic trends in the working world, primarily by analyzing statistical data.
Finally, the ILO promotes technical cooperation, by helping countries meet international standards, achieve social justice, and improve their economic performance.
On this important 60th anniversary, I am tempted to underscore the ILO’s modernity by quoting all five articles of the Declaration in full. Let me instead  remind your readers of the affirmation put forward in Article II, that: “all human beings, irrespective of race, creed or sex, have the right to pursue both their material well-being and their spiritual development in conditions of freedom and dignity, of economic security and equal opportunity”; that “the attainment of the conditions in which this shall be possible must constitute the central aim of national and international policy”; that “all national and international policies and measures, in particular those of an economic and financial character, should be judged in this light and accepted only in so far as they may be held to promote and not to hinder the achievement of this fundamental objective”; that in consequence“ it is a responsibility of the International Labor Organization to examine and consider all international economic and financial policies and measures in the light of this fundamental objective”; and that “in discharging the tasks entrusted to it the International Labor Organization, having considered all relevant economic and financial factors, may include in its decisions and recommendations any provisions which it considers appropriate.”
The ILO has yet to fulfill this highly ambitious social mandate, which gives greater priority to national and international policy and measures, than to the economic and financial dimensions (as spelled out clearly in Article IV, and especially to measures “to expand production and consumption, to avoid severe economic fluctuations to promote the economic and social advancement of the less developed regions, to assure greater stability in world prices of primary products, and to promote a high and steady volume of international trade”).
The creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) did fulfill a long-awaited wish, born with the founding of the United Nations. But it has also sparked widespread debate, heard over and again in WTO reunions from Singapore to Geneva, not to forget Seattle, Doha, and Cancun.
This debate has also raged in ILO meetings. The issuing of the ILO “Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work” in July 1998, and the “Report of the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization” in May 2004, prove that some 60 years later, the ILO’s mandate is as relevant as ever. This is equally true for all States, whatever their level of development, and for all international organizations, whatever their realm of responsibility. It also underscores the urgent need for measures that make decent work a top priority and ensure that national labor policies are both coherent and democratically legitimate, so that we can move forward towards “a fair globalization, creating opportunities for all.”
As the ILO pushes forward with its work and with the debate over the social dimension of globalization, it knows that France stands firmly at its side, as a leading supporter.
France inspired and founded the ILO, along with the United Kingdom. It has given the ILO two of its nine directors-general: Albert Thomas, who served from 1919 to 1932, and Francis Blanchard, in office from 1974 to 1989. The former saw the rise and expansion of the Soviet empire; the latter watched its decline and collapse. Numerous illustrious figures have represented the French government to the ILO (some as president of the Governing Body), including: Arthur Fontaine, Justin Godart, Adrien Tixier, Alexandre Parodi, Gabriel Ventejol, Yvon Chotard, and currently Philippe Seguin. Bernard Boisson currently represents French employers to the ILO, following in the footsteps of Robert Pinot, Alfred Lambert-Ribot, Pierre Waline and Jean-Jacques Oechslin (who concurrently served as President of the International Organization of Employers (IOE), a post now held by another Frenchman, François Perigot). French workers have been represented by Léon Jouhaux, Roger Louet, René Salanne, and since 1981 by Marc Blondel. France is, clearly, one of the ILO’s main pillars.
As our world grows increasingly globalized, France continues to provide the ILO with vital political support at every level: the President of the Republic, the presidents of its two national assemblies and their relevant commissions, the president and the assembly of the Economic and Social Council, and the entire French government. This is witnessed in their
frequent meetings in Paris with ILO Director-General Juan Somavia, and in the shared opinions and proposals put forward at official meetings (the annual International Labor Conference in June, ILO Governing Body meetings), as well as in other bodies in the United Nations system, the Bretton Woods organizations, the WTO, the G-8, the OECD, the Francophonie, other European bodies, and, at times, in their bilateral relations.
In addition, France has signed two successive three-year global cooperation agreements with ILAB, and has more than tripled its financial commitment, making it the organization’s sixth leading voluntary donor.
The ILO Office in France was the first regional office opened by the organization, in January 1920. As its Director, I am very pleased to have had this opportunity to remind your readers of the organization’s “modernity,” and of the many positive examples of France’s participation in the important debates and initiatives championed by the ILO.

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