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87th Session
Geneva, 1-17 June 1999


Address by Mr. Henri Konan Bédié, President of the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire
10 June 1999

On behalf of the developing countries and my own country, Côte d'Ivoire, and on behalf of the continent of Africa, a continent that is working, progressing and moving, I have been given the honour of taking the floor before this august assembly, the International Labour Conference. I am most grateful for this honour and I thank you most sincerely.

First of all, I should like to greet His Excellency Muhammad Mumuni, President of this 87th Session of the International Labour Conference. I cordially greet everyone here in this hall and to the thousands of delegates who are contributing their expertise to this annual meeting, I extend a message of encouragement to pursue and further to intensify their work in this Organization's spirit of dialogue and tolerance in order to promote international solidarity, human rights and rights at work.

But first of all, I wish to extend my sincerest congratulations to the Director-General upon his election with such a broad majority to head the International Labour Organization. I am delighted to see Mr. Juan Somavia presiding over this Organization, which is so indispensable to social progress and to human progress.

It is most fortunate that this eminent responsibility falls on this occasion to a representative of the southern hemisphere, someone well acquainted with the problems of developing countries. It is this learned man, Mr. Juan Somavia, who will take our Organization into the rapidly approaching new millennium. He will be thanked for that.

We Africans are placing much hope in the construction of a world of greater solidarity. It is our belief that the input of men from the poor continents, aware, conscious and informed of the specific nature of traditional societies brutally confronted by the demands of international economic competition, will help to implement innovative solutions to guide these societies out of their difficulties.

I should like to thank you also for the remarks that you have just made, remarks of friendly support and confidence towards Africa and the developing countries. You have managed to emphasize the remarkable developments that have been achieved by Africa over the few decades since independence. The credit for this change is due first and foremost to the human qualities, the courage, the relentless toiling of our industrious populations. It is true that a number of African countries are embroiled in serious crises, even civil wars. But at the same time it is also fitting to recognize and to inform the international community of the fact that the majority of African nations, about three-quarters of them, live in peace, concerned solely for improvement in their living conditions.

How can we pay tribute to the International Labour Organization? How can we best express our profound gratitude to all those who over the years have taken their place in this assembly from the year 1919? All of them have been motivated by the same faith and desire to establish a world of social justice, to grant workers their dignity, to give them the means of defending their rights and in particular their entitlement to a just distribution of the fruits of their labour.

This is why no one can fail to realize that the significance of the work of this session of the Conference is its tangible effects upon the lives of workers. Côte d'Ivoire has always attached great importance to the Conventions and Recommendations adopted and proposed by this International Labour Conference. I can vouch for that personally.

I remember a period which for me is not so far removed from the present: 1958. I had just left university when history suddenly began to surge ahead in Africa. Decolonization was pushing my generation into an active role in the national independence movement. It was in that context that I found myself in my first job as part of the Directorate of the Family Allowance Fund of Côte d'Ivoire, at the very heart of the social problems of an emerging nation.

I therefore had occasion to observe, during a rich period of development in which considerable economic and political transformations took place, how the International Labour Organization was endeavouring to give to nations in the first years of their independence as broad a form of assistance as possible by means of studies, numerous technical assistance missions, and scholarships for officials and managers of newly created bodies.

This sharing of useful experience was guided by the concern to coordinate the social policies of African countries. African governments in this way were able to prepare in the most appropriate way their economic and social coordination even before the implementation of institutional structures and subregional integration mechanisms in French-speaking Africa.

Over several decades, Côte d'Ivoire has experienced remarkable economic development, greater than that in many African countries.

This has involved for us a moral obligation, which was that the population should take part in social development hand in hand with this economic development. It was in this context that Côte d'Ivoire ratified the basic Conventions elaborated and adopted by the ILO and committed itself to application of them through information and publicity campaigns.

These Conventions gave wage earners greater responsibilities in their enterprises. They recognized that each player in the social network had his or her own role and tasks. They established the principles according to which industrial relations were regulated through collective bargaining and agreements. But, above all, we are fully aware that high-level protection and regulation benefitting the whole of the working population was a major factor in social cohesion, national cohesion, attenuating inequalities and reinforcing national solidarity.

This form of solidarity also made all workers much more aware that they belonged to the same community of labour with a shared destiny.

With this factor integrating the nation, what do we see now when observing world events?

We see now that there are two simultaneous processes which in many ways are restructuring the social edifice of our nations. On the one hand, the labour law acquired at such a high price is becoming a right to work, the right to decent work emphasized by the ILO.

But when we are faced with massive underemployment, involving millions of persons, the absolute priority of governments in any region of the world is to create employment before trying to protect employment.

In developing countries, the structural adjustment policies associated with debt relief very often are backward steps for employment. There are not compensated by growth in the private sector, which for a large number of countries is still in its infancy. Moreover, we have entered a new era in the organization of enterprises, based upon flexibility in production and labour. The irreversible phenomenon of globalization is leading to social and labour law being abandoned more and more to the mercies of market forces. This affects in particular the collective social protection system and the mechanisms for fighting inequality. In addition, there is a growing, unfortunate split between globalized economic power on the one hand and national political powers on the other. As a result, the principal actors involved in development are less and less answerable to any form of democratic control.

The calling into question of national sovereignty in a number of economic and social areas is a further source of concern. I believe that this Conference must clearly assert that certain fields should remain subject to the rules laid down by the public, national or international authorities, otherwise whole areas of social life will escape any form of collective control and consequently will be seriously damaged.

For us, this is not a question of calling into doubt the principles of globalization. Everybody is entitled to look forward to its benefits, we must adopt a new regulatory framework to ensure that social justice and solidarity are guaranteed in the form of human emancipation on a worldwide scale.

Such directions open up opportunities for serious thinking. Imagination is required to place man at the centre of our concerns, as the main objective of an economy which is becoming more and more intangible and abstract, especially as the very nature of work is changing and skills are required which in themselves engender new inequalities.

The countries of Africa want to invent development models adapted to their levels of progress, their environment and their cultures.

This very need implies a serious thinking process, for the formulation of this sustainable development model.

These countries also have to keep track of the structural reforms, the harshness of which has led to reduced public sector and associated sector recruitment. We have to go on encouraging cohesion through dialogue and negotiation with the Bretton Woods institutions, which, indeed could do to be more open and democratic in order to understand the realities of life in the many different lands.

In our developing countries, independent informal employment has always been a dominant form of organization throughout our economy. Anyone who knows Africa knows the great African spirit of enterprise. This will to take the initiative is something that marks the informal sector. It is a strength, a form of vitality, that should be used as impetus for the desired changes because employment is now shifting towards small units and the large companies themselves are fragmenting when they are not being swallowed up by mega-mergers.

New technologies, the dispersion of markets faced with unceasing diversified demand, the pressure of competition and also the desire of the individual to be less regimented, all of these different factors unite to impose a different pattern of work and to create a great space for service activities and self-employment.

The idea of individual enterprise seems to be progressively replacing that of full employment held dear by States. It is in individual enterprise therefore that we have to find solutions for the effective participation of the countries of the southern hemisphere in world development. The creativity of individual initiatives, however, should not exclude partnership in establishing solidarity and joint action. These are the realities that can stimulate and support the modernization of our countries, ensure that the structures of our countries are more effective, increase the number of micro-enterprises and small and medium-sized enterprises, and respond to the new requirements of a new world of work without sanctions. This means that we have to analyse carefully and add to our labour codes in order to adapt them to this new organization of enterprises; and means also drawing up regulations which guarantee quality social protection for the independent worker.

The Conference must identify where these unexplored areas of labour law are. Such action in favour of individual enterprise not only requires world level public regulation but also requires coordination within a new vision of development of growth and work. Adopting a new ethic for the future of an alliance between democracy, globalization and development will be of benefit to all.

All of this is indispensable because the new economic universe will otherwise exclude everything that does not suit it. With productivity and profit in mind there cannot be a radical new policy in favour of employment, and a new social pact, without an increase in training, without regional integration in economic areas, and without greater stimulation or recognition of public bodies. Now, I believe in the virtues of these simple ideas, not because I am naïve, but on the basis of my own personal experience.

I believe that economic growth has to be sustained without losing sight of the fact that even strong growth will not resolve all the problems associated with unemployment, and that is the reason why we have to implement a strategy which presupposes the fulfilment of five fundamental conditions: non-inflation, protection of workers' purchasing power, in other words, favouring consumerism, the financing of social investment from enterprise profits, the safeguarding of ecological and economic balances, and finally the signing of a social contract or pact which mobilizes the world of work through dialogue, through democracy.

The countries which have sufficiently invested in education are experiencing the greatest rates of expansion. Any investment in education is a long-term one but it accelerates growth. In Côte d'Ivoire, education has absorbed more than 40 per cent of our national budget but the problem is one of reorienting education towards greater vocational training. And indeed in Côte d'Ivoire we have endeavoured to do so despite our lack of resources.

The modernization of manufacturing and production not only depends upon capital and technology, it also requires the employment of trained working men and women and the setting up of training schemes in close cooperation with enterprises.

Behind all the industrial transformations that have taken place, we are witnessing deeper changes. A number of people setting up enterprises are having to assume responsibilities which require levels of knowledge and know-how in the fields of, for instance, tax law, accounting, computer technology, labour law, social security and, let me repeat, the use of computers. And all of this presupposes ongoing training which is being constantly updated. The service industries are developing rapidly and consequently greater skills are needed, including in the field of human resources, dissemination of information and the organization of services. All sorts of new activities are emerging and the sources of employment they provide must be promoted.

The capacity that every country has to win the battle against unemployment will very much depend upon its aptitude to understand what exactly is changing and its ability to mobilize itself to avoid problems. The resistance to change through long-term strikes, marked by violence, looting and pillaging is often the worst enemy of employment and of workers.

In Africa, we are endeavouring to bring peoples together in ways other than by war and by force. On our continent there are huge economic areas which are most suitable for collective action, for cooperation, for each one to contribute what he does best.

This march therefore towards regional economic groupings in Africa cannot be allowed simply to be dictated by the requirements of the market. We have to ensure regional integration by giving priority to growth, employment, social and human development. The harmonization of tax laws in our countries also involves social harmonization and integration. Consequently, in that spirit Africans have to pursue their efforts to find solutions to the effects of population migration towards the coastal countries.

And let me take this opportunity to emphasize how necessary it is for any nation to have an international cooperation policy -- to have an investment policy, to have access to foreign markets and to ensure that there is the proper transfer of know-how and technologies. All of my comments are directly linked to the global strategy of the fight against poverty waged by developing countries and most particularly by those of Africa. It is incumbent upon me to say that for Côte d'Ivoire, this strategy is based upon a will to create employment in the free enterprise sector and through individual initiatives.

Our public investment policy, which itself has given rise to employment, is a source of employment. It is directed towards infrastructure projects which are of particular benefit to the private sector, in terms of public works and construction, the building of airports and highways, bridges, housing, the extension of the telecommunications network, and also the distribution of water and electricity utilities.

The improvement of run-down neighbourhoods, roads, villages, rural irrigation and electricity access are directly coordinated by the State.

At the same time as making social funds available, in the form of state loans which are available to all those that wish to set up enterprises, we are also setting up production funds, available to modernize and revitalize the economy of our country. We are emphasizing the social integration of women and young people, so many of whom have initiatives of their own that they can contribute, which allows us to set up a whole network of micro-enterprises and small and medium-sized enterprises, which strengthen the economy at local and regional and national levels.

People are organizing projects that they have set up by themselves or as a community because they understand the need to take their fate into their own hands. This is a fundamental factor of democracy.

This has been further encouraged by institutional reforms, and we are opening up new areas for initiatives at national, regional and local levels. Democracy is marching ahead through the reduction of social and regional inequality.

It should be recalled that the identities of our young democratic nations depend very much upon the force of our nations' aspirations, and our attachment to universal values: to put an end to exploitation of man by man at a national and international level and to favour the development of social liberties, freedoms and rights, equality between men and women, and the protection of children. All of these aspirations are deeply rooted in universal values.

These values are more than ever the values of today. They must contribute to the transformation of global society by giving it a human face, they must fight against all forms of poverty and exploitation, rejecting definitively the worst forms of these which is that of the worst forms of child labour and the exploitation of children.

The International Labour Organization has made this issue a principal objective. A Convention is to be signed by all member States so that the next century will be one of respect for children, children in whom people invest so much hope and love.

Côte d'Ivoire shares this ideal, this new humanism, and it gives its full support to all the efforts undertaken by this session of the Conference to guarantee protection of the rights of children, their right to education, instruction, emancipation and full personal development, with very careful protection of their weaknesses.

Putting an end to poverty in Africa, working for durable quality development and ridding Africa of the crushing burden of debt, has, of course, the support of the international community. It will allow us to create new wealth, and new employment. Also, in the countries of the north, not only in developing countries, it will guarantee the emergence of new forms of solidarity in a world where humanity's fate is interlinked.

We in the African continent, and on behalf of all developing countries, continue to call for a policy based upon the shared responsibilities of all players, employers and independent workers and wage earners, and the public authorities -- a policy of dialogue for an innovative society of responsibility and solidarity in a world in which social justice is fully understood by all as being the purest, most powerful factor of the emancipation of men, women and children.

We have many reasons to place our hopes in the work of your Conference, for which we wish you the greatest of success.

Updated by HK. Approved by RH. Last update: 26 January 2000.