ILO is a specialized agency of the United Nations

270th Session
Geneva, November 1997


Report of the Director-General

Second Supplementary Report:
Report by the Director-General on his participation
in the Second Regular Session of the
Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC) for 1997
(New York, 31 October 1997)

1. The agenda of the Second Regular Session of the ACC, which was held in New York recently, included an item entitled: The relationships between the United Nations system and civil society, including the private sector -- Handling the global agenda with non-state actors. This reflects increasing awareness by the UN system as a whole of both the growing significance and impact of the role of civil society, as well as the importance of market mechanisms toward the achievement of desired objectives by UN agencies and institutions. It should be recalled that interaction between the UN system and civil society constituted a significant component of the UN Secretary-General's reform programme unveiled last July, and since then the Secretary-General has made conscious efforts and taken concrete steps to expand and deepen relationships between the UN system and civil society in a "more systematic and mutually beneficial" manner and in accordance with "changing times".

2. The idea of putting this item on the agenda of the ACC, therefore, was to obtain individual and collective expressions by ACC members on the wide range of mechanisms that exist within the UN system for interacting with civil society, and to develop appropriate and effective ways to further consolidate partnership relationships with non-state actors, including the private sector. Accordingly, ACC members were presented with a number of recommendations aimed at "intensifying and refining" the relationship of the UN system with civil society through agency-specific action and inter-agency collaboration. A striking feature of these recommendations is the underlying assertion that "civil society" be differentiated from the "private sector".

3. The discussion of this item by the ACC was preceded on the previous day, 30 October 1997, by an informal dialogue and lunch with about a dozen CEOs and high-level executives of major private-sector businesses based in the United States, Europe, Japan, the Philippines and South Africa, initiated by the UN and based on a proposal by the Prince of Wales Business Leaders Forum, to which selected ACC members including the Director-General himself were invited by the Secretary-General. Secondly, the formal ACC session was followed by an overnight retreat on 31 October and 1 November at the Rockefeller Foundation Pocantico Estate in Westchester, New York, which provided another opportunity for the "civil society" agenda item to be further explored through (i) an informal panel discussion involving the participation of Mr. Percy Barnevik (Asea Brown Boveri Ltd., ABB), Mr. Wim Kok (Prime Minister of the Netherlands), and Mr. Enrique Iglesias (President of the Inter-American Development Bank); and (ii) group discussions involving ACC members on specific aspects of the UN-civil society interaction and implications.

4. The Director-General, in his intervention before the ACC, emphasized that the tripartite structure of the ILO provided for representatives of clearly defined segments of civil society including the private sector (i.e. employers' and workers' organizations) to participate fully in the formulation and implementation of both the normative and operational activities of the Organization. This long experience in terms of the interaction between governments and non-state actors at both the Governing Body and the International Labour Conference (and their constituent permanent and ad hoc committees) was regarded as relevant to guide the UN system as a whole in its desire to develop a manageable framework for the expanding and intensifying relationships with civil society, including business. The Director-General also stressed in the course of the debate the importance of ensuring representativity and of avoiding a multitude of organizations representing segments of civil society in different entities of the UN system, in particular with regard to formal consultations.

5. From the discussions at the formal ACC session and the retreat, it was obvious that the relationship between entities of the UN system and civil society is taking on a new focus, mainly as a result of both the worldwide expansion of civil society's role and the increasing pre-eminence of market mechanisms through globalization. The historical experience of the ILO of governments working alongside representative segments of civil society in an institutionalized manner may, however, be unique to our Organization, and one that cannot be easily replicated elsewhere within the UN system at this point in time.

6. The Governing Body may wish to provide guidance on the ILO's response to the UN system-wide initiative to intensify relationships with civil society, including the private sector.

Geneva, 7 November 1997.

Updated by VC. Approved by NdW. Last update: 26 January 2000.