Opening Address to the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry's Socio-Economic Summit

by Ms Mitsuko Horiuchi, Regional Director, ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Statement | Kathmandu | 20 February 1999
Mr Anand Raj Mulmi,
Summit Chairman and President of the FNCCI,
The Rt. Honourable Mr Girija Prasad Koirala, Prime Minister of Nepal,
H.E. Mr. Hussian Muhammad Ershad, (former President of Bangladesh),
H.E. Mr. Anand Panyarachun, (former Prime Minister of Thailand),
H.E. Mr. Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari (former President of Pakistan),
Honourable Ministers,
Distinguished political leaders of Nepal,
Heads of Constitutional Bodies,
Distinguished Convenor Mr. Binod K. Chaudary,
Leaders of trade unions and business,

It is a great honour for me to address this august gathering on behalf of the International Labour Organization on the eve of the new millennium.

It is also a great personal pleasure to be here in the Kingdom of Nepal, not least for its breathtaking scenery, cultural riches and the warmth of its people.

I should begin by recalling our Organization's mission as an Organization of governments, employers and workers. The FNCCI is an important partner of the ILO's, and this very welcome initiative by the Federation underlines that importance. For our part, the ILO is planning to organize a regional round table on enterprise development in Asia and a second worldwide Enterprise Forum this year. These two events will focus on competitiveness, corporate citizenship and employment challenges in the 21st century.

Mr Chairperson, the ILO's stands, in a word, for social justice. No other body in the U.N. System has played a greater role in setting international labour standards. Plainly, one of the main reasons for creating our Organization - exactly 80 years ago - was to make the conditions of workers and their families more humane.

Another reason was political one: unless Governments improved conditions of work, there was a very real risk of social unrest that could disturb peace and harmony in the world.

Since social protection carried a cost, another very important reason for setting up the ILO was economic. To avoid putting any country or industry at a disadvantage because of its commitment to social justice, the international community as a whole had to embrace over-arching values and reform.

That is why the delegates to the 1919 Peace Conference at Versailles, in the belief that lasting peace must be based on social justice, decided to create the International Labour Organization.

Mr Chairperson,
I would now like to jump some eight decades in time, from Versailles to this beautiful mountain Kingdom, to take a look with you at how the ILO can contribute to lasting peace. The peace that we all wish for ourselves and our children in the new millennium.

In Nepal, as in the rest of the world, we see the effects of globalization. By hurling us into a new marketplace, globalization has left us with economic, social and political institutions many of which were conceived at another time, for another place. A place where shared values prevailed. A place where people knew each other and could make allowances for community needs. Yes, globalization is the fact of life. But it has a brighter and a darker side. The challenge facing us now, as the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr Kofi Annan, told the World Economic Forum earlier this month in Davos, is to find ways to limit economic volatility. He called on the world's leading business to initiate a compact of shared values and principles to give a human face to global market.

The ILO has been working closely with the Government of Nepal, employers' and trade union organizations to improve the lives of working people. Combatting child labour under our International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), building on women's self-help capacity at the community level and promoting social dialogue are only three examples of what we are doing together.

As Nepal's present Five-Year Development plan attests, the ILO is convinced that generating the most productive employment is an effective way to alleviate poverty is is in an Organization that is as much an employers' organization as it is a workers' or inter-governmental one - thanks to its unique tripartite structure - ILO commitment to more and better employment is quite natural. The role of the private sector is very important indeed. That is one reason why our Organization supports the development of employers' organizations.

The year 1995 was a milestone for the ILO. In that year world leaders met at the Copenhagen World Summit on Social Development. There, they committed themselves in a solemn Declaration to promoting the goal of full employment as a basic priority of our economic and social policies, and to enabling all men and women to attain secure and sustainable livelihoods through freely chosen productive employment and work.
As some of you may recall, two years ago, as part of the world-wide follow-up to the Social Summit, the ILO conducted a comprehensive country employment policy review with you.

In January of this year representatives of governments (from development planning agencies and labour ministries), employers' and workers' organizations - including Mr. Anand Raj Mulmi, President of the FNCCI - came to Bangkok to review efforts in our region to uphold the commitments made in Copenhagen. One outcome of that meeting was a list of policy initiatives needed to achieve full employment. As you can imagine, the list was quite exhaustive. Very briefly, the meeting emphasized the cardinal importance of democratic processes in the workplace and social dialogue.

During the past 18 months, the Asian financial crisis has been high on our agendas. The more so as it spills over to other regions - although Nepal has to some degree been spared. The crisis has cost millions of workers their livelihoods. But it has also sparked calls from every corner for greater participation, accountability, transparency and, above all, democracy.

The challenge before us is to achieve a balance between economic and social development, to minimize the risks and uncertainties inherent in an increasingly globalized economy and maximize the benefits of globalization. In the workplace, the ILO is fortunate to have an international agreement of a new sort on fundamental principles and rights at work - adopted last year by the International Labour Conference. The Declaration breaks new ground in human rights protection by requiring ILO members to respect the principles at the heart of seven "core" Conventions whether or not a country has ratified them. The core principles are freedom of association, forced labour, child labour and discrimination at work are the principles. The Declaration also emphasises the Organization's duty to help member States to do so.

The Government of Nepal has already ratified four of the seven fundamental Conventions, and intends to ratify the other three, including the Freedom of Association Convention. These are very welcome signs of healthy democratic process.

Democracy and indeed all of the fundamental principles and rights at work in the ILO Declaration, are essential to the attainment of the mutually reinforcing goals of alleviation of poverty and development of human resources for gainful employment, and of enhanced productivity and greater competitiveness. Our commitment to these principles can turn the global marketplace into a global village, where profits are made and the benefits of profit are shared, while the basic rights of working people are guaranteed.

The keys to development are in your hands. I call upon you to ensure that economic partnership embraces democracy and social justice. We, the United Nations family of Organizations, stand ready to work with you for a more just society. Our task is considerable and will require vision as well as action.