102nd International Labour Conference

Closing remarks by the ILO Director-General to the 102nd International Labour Conference

Statement | Geneva, Switzerland | 20 June 2013
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Mr President, Delegates and Observers,

My task, as the Conference draws to its close, is to respond to the debate that has taken place here in plenary on my Report  “Realities, renewal and tripartite commitment”.

But before launching into that, allow me a few words about the work of our Conference and the reform process at the ILO which is the institutional backdrop to it.

We have had a record 4,718 registered delegates here, including 156 Ministers. We have received and heard the messages of eminent guests – President Banda of Malawi, European Council President van Rompuy, and African Union Commission President Dlamini Zuma.

The Conference’s technical committees have completed important discussions and produced valuable conclusions on crucial issues – green jobs and sustainable development; demographics, jobs, and social protection; social dialogue. They have done so in constructive fashion and tripartite commitment to which my Report speaks.

Our Committee on the Application of Standards completed its work successfully – a major step forward from last year which should not blind us to the reality that many more steps forward will be needed before we get where we need to be in respect of our standards work.

And at this Conference the ILO and Myanmar have completed the long journey of action under article 33 of the Constitution. It has been a unique, bumpy, and sometimes uncomfortable ride. But it is one that vindicates ILO capacities, demonstrates just what this Organization can achieve when it unites behind its values and exploits to the full the instruments at its disposal.

We have adopted too a Programme and Budget for the next two years which I read as a vote of confidence in our Organization and the direction it is taking. I want to thank all those who supported the Programme and Budget and also express my respect for the explanations given by those who were unable to do so.

So here is my first overall conclusion from this year’s experience. It is that we have an extraordinary institution in this Conference. It has an unparalleled capacity to bring us together. It is a unique global tripartite parliament of labour. It produces results. It needs reform. I have no doubt of that. I believe it has to be shorter. But without impacting against its critical functions particularly in setting and supervising standards.

So let’s not make the mistake of talking down the value of our Conference. That would be an error of appreciation and of intent. Instead, let’s set about the task of changing it to make it better. Refusing that challenge would be a failure of will and ambition. I will come back to this.


Many of you have spoken – either from this podium or in other conversations – of the reform process underway at the ILO. While these exchanges have raised different points on specific issues, the overall message has been overwhelming – practically unanimous – in strong support for change. Indeed, if there has been any concern it has been that changes need to be pursued with undiminished ambition and sustained energy and determination.

In response to those with whom I have been able to talk personally, I have sought to provide an honest appraisal of progress made and challenges ahead. Both are considerable. And I have the opportunity now to reiterate that my colleagues and I have got your collective message, understand our responsibilities, and will push forward as you have told us to do.

Of course this is not reform simply for the sake of reform. It is reform with the agreed purpose of upgrading the quality of ILO work and services, of bringing the ILO closer to you our tripartite constituency, and of making the ILO as useful, relevant, and influential as our circumstances demand it must be.

In that regard, my Report to this Conference has had the objective of eliciting your guidance on the substantive agenda that must take the ILO forward towards its centenary, driven by the motor of reform.

I want to thank you for the very extensive guidance you have provided, as well as for the positive comments made about the Report itself. Many of you have been pleased by its accessibility, its concrete and direct approach, as well as by its brevity. Although I recognize that to say that the chief merit of a report is that it is short in fact, as one delegate said of the content of mine, “raises more questions than it answers”.

But the idea of the Report and the debate on it is that it should have consequences. So the question now is what exactly those consequences should be, and how we can bring them about.

At this juncture, I wish to state clearly that the ILO is determined to discharge fully its proper role and responsibilities to support and improve the conditions of Palestinian workers. I have made clear our commitment in that regard and the definition of the ILO’s mandated responsibilities. We must be practical. We must be active.

President, Delegates,

The Seven Centenary Initiatives put to the Conference at the end of my Report have been the object of much comment from you. That comment has varied from the general to the detailed. Some have expressed blanket support for them. Nobody has said they are inappropriate in substance or in form.

It seems that you agree on the need to set out broad initiatives of this type to carry us forward to 2019.

This said, some initiatives were more frequently addressed than others. Somewhat to my surprise, the “Women at Work” initiative did not get as much comment as others, at least not directly. I prefer not to conclude that this was the result of only 65 of the 291 speakers on the Report being women (itself a call to action) but rather that your commitment to gender issues at work is so well established that it does not require restatement.

On the other hand, the “Enterprise Initiative” received great attention from speakers from all groups. On this one, there was strong convergence around the need for the ILO to establish a platform of engagement with enterprises, very much on the grounds set out in the Report. Where differing emphasis came, it was in respect of how to engage, with Employers in particular insistent on greater clarity on method. In addition, there was widespread interest in defining and implementing an ILO role in respect of global supply chains and more generally in respect of corporate social responsibility.

There was strong support as well for the “End to Poverty Initiative”, with many speakers making the link to agreed future ILO work on the rural economy and informality as well as the wider international post-2015 development agenda where we seem to be progressing our aim of establishing a place for decent work objectives, but clearly need to join forces to finally do so.

In my Report, I described the role that the ILO will be called upon to play in the transition to a low-carbon, sustainable development path as the single factor which would most clearly distinguish the Organization’s second century of activity from its first. You seem to agree, and the technical work carried out by this Conference confirm that understanding.

So the Green Initiative will need to be at the heart of what we do and in all areas of ILO activity, with the post-2015 agenda very much in mind.

President, Delegates,

I should make it clear – because some uncertainty did emerge in discussion – that the suggested Initiatives on Standards and on Governance are of a different character from the others. In the first instance, they relate to the way the ILO itself organizes its work. These Initiatives are tilted towards inwards more than outwards, but are not the less important for that, and more closely related to the reform agenda.

There are two basic points to be made about these Initiatives.

The first is that they must take immediate effect. Certainly, we are not intending to wait until 2019 to start them. On the contrary, they are really continuations of processes already started, but which need to be given new urgency, shape, profile, and political commitment. The Initiatives will help do that.

The second is that this very Conference has provided first-hand evidence and instruction about the tasks at hand.

I started this intervention with a sincerely held conviction of the Conference as an institution with unique attributes that must not be lost. But I do not think there are many here at the end of this near three-week odyssey who do not really believe we could do our work better – more efficiently and in ways that strengthen the Conference.

The experience of this year’s Standards Committee confirms too that recreating full consensus around an authoritative system of standards setting and supervision may be the most demanding test of tripartite commitment. We have succeeded in “getting by” this year – not without difficulty, but that will not always be so in the absence of a new understanding on some fundamental issues. We need to listen to each other, work with each other, be creative, and be faithful to the values and objectives of the ILO to find our way forward. Let’s all commit to that.

Finally, there is the “Future of Work Initiative”. I will confess to you that I felt uncertain about proposing this Initiative to you. It felt a little removed from pressing, immediate realities, perhaps something of an indulgence for an Organization that is committed to rigour in efficiency and relevance in addressing your needs of today.

But your reactions have allayed those doubts. You have said that a forward-looking examination of the place of work in our lives and societies is needed. It will frame policy choices and it will be appropriate to the marking of the ILO’s 100th anniversary.

Following this review of the Seven Centenary Initiatives, it is necessary to say that a number of issues not covered by them figured prominently in your plenary interventions. That was particularly the case for migration issues on which many delegates had important things to say. We have taken good note of them. We do need to position the ILO better in this field. The coming UN High-Level Dialogue will give us important opportunity to do so.

President, Delegates,

So what happens next?

I propose that we put follow-up to the discussion of my Report on the agenda of the next Governing Body session in October. We will go through every one of your interventions in detail and draw out their full intent. On that basis, we can present a series of decision points which together would constitute a Centenary Road Map. We will see where it takes us. But it is clear that the action to be taken on each of the Initiatives will vary in accordance with their character and with circumstances.

In that regard, it is to be understood that the Initiatives will need to be placed in the context of decisions already taken, or to be taken, on ILO activities. We have just approved a Programme and Budget for 2014-15 – arrangements which could well take us up to and beyond our centenary.

My view is that the Initiatives can help frame and direct those arrangements. It is not a case of duplication of programme outputs and objectives, but of equipping the Organization with the necessary tools and strategic direction. The relationship with the reform agenda is one of mutual reinforcement. We are engaged in a single coherent agenda.

In this way, I hope that you will agree that our debate, your interventions, can and will have the consequences that we have sought from this exercise. It is important that they do because for this Organization to be influential in the future it needs to respond accurately, effectively, and expeditiously to what its member States say to it and expect of it.

My colleagues and I will be investing all of our energy and commitment in the year ahead to making sure that we do that until we meet again next year to renew this conversation.

Thank you for your attention.