Ceremony for transmission of office

Ceremony for transmission of office: Remarks by the outgoing Director-General Juan Somavia and by the Director-General Elect, Guy Ryder

Statement | Geneva | 28 September 2012
Dear Friends

Thank you so much for being here.

This is a moment full of institutional significance; a symbolic yet deeply formal moment.

A moment when we all come together to be part of, and witness to, the handover from the Director-General to the Director-General Elect of the daily responsibility and authority to guide the destiny of the International Labour Office.

I thus have the honour of entrusting Guy Ryder, my successor, with the guardianship of the three keys that have come to symbolize this moment of transition and are such a beautiful expression of our institutional identity.

They are in good hands, very good hands.

And on this solemn occasion, I call on ILO colleagues in the regions and headquarters to place their full energy, knowledge and abilities, behind the leadership of Director-General Guy Ryder.

I feel that with these three keys I am also transmitting the collective energy, the sense of hope and purpose, and the legacy embedded in the struggles of nine Directors-General since Albert Thomas through whose hands these keys have passed.

They are a synthesis of our history, a history we must recall, honour and respect.

Dear Friends, Dear Director-General

At the moment in which I am exercising my last functions as Director-General, let me close with two personal comments relevant to this event. They concern two special relations.

The first relates to an event some days after my own election when I received a visit of the granddaughter of Albert Thomas. She brought me a biography of her grandfather with a dedication from her mother to me saying: “A Juan Somavia sur les traces de mon père avec tous mes bons voeux”.

You can well understand that it was a highly emotional moment for me.

Since then I have felt a very strong and inspiring kinship with him, reflected in the beautiful oak chair that he used during his tenure which has accompanied me in my office since my early days at the ILO.

My second remark is that I also feel a very strong kinship with Director-General Guy Ryder whom I respect and admire.

We have worked together since the time of the World Summit for Social Development; he was central to my understanding of the Office in my early years as Director-General. We developed a close articulation between ICFTU and ITUC with the ILO when he headed the global trade union movement and he then became a close collaborator during my last years in office.

I am deeply thankful for all of that.

At this moment in which he embarks on his own responsibilities I want to pledge my committed support and heartfelt engagement with what will be – I am sure – the history of a very successful Director-General.

Dear Guy Ryder, Dear Director-General

You are now the guardian of our values and traditions.

Juan Somavia


Thank you Director-General for this very symbolic act, the presentation of these historic keys, and with them the transfer of responsibility between us on this your last working day in Office and the eve of my assumption of it.

Thanks also to all my colleagues who are here and who are following this ceremony via the internet from other places.

This is indeed a moment heavy with symbolism and, as has just been recalled by Mr Becci with history too. You will understand too if I say there is a big dose of emotion involved as well.

These keys are of course a physical representation of our tripartite constituents – the women and men for whom we work and whom we must serve to the utmost of our energy and capacities.

And when the three keys turn together, when Governments, Employers and Workers are able to come together doors open; social justice advances.

This has been the unchanging objective of the ILO since its establishment 93 years ago. When these keys were first used to open the doors of the first ILO building in 1926 in a ceremony presided over by our first Director-General Albert Thomas, the meaning of the ILO’s mission was stated inimitably by the great international French trade union leader Leon Jouhaux – who like the ILO itself was a Nobel Peace Lauréate.

Let me take a moment to read what he said on that occasion, beginning with his quote from Jean Juarès who gave his life for the cause of peace. Remember this was said on the eve of the worst economic and social calamity of the period of the ILO’s history and its tragic sequel. Juarès said that:

«Le travail devrait être une fonction et une joie; il n’est trop souvent qu’une servitude et une souffrance. It devrait être le combat de tous les hommes unis contre les choses, contre les fatalités de la nature et les misères de la vie; il est le combat des hommes entre eux, au milieu des violences de la concurrence illimitée.»

Against this, Juarès contrasted the vision of global social justice:

«Au contraire, quand l’état de concorde aura succédé à l’état de lutte, quand tous les hommes auront leur part de propriété dans l’immense capital humain, et leur part d’initiative et de vouloir dans l’immense activité humaine, tous les hommes auront la plénitude de la fierté et de la joie; ils se sentiront, dans le plus modeste travail des mains, les coopérateurs de la civilisation universelle, et ce travail, plus noble et plus fraternel, ils le régleront de maniére à se réserver toujours quelques heures de loisir pour réflechir et pour sentir la vie.»

«Ils comprendront mieux le sens profond de la vie, dont le but mystérieux est l’accord de toutes les consciences, l’harmonie de toutes les forces et de toutes les libertés.»

Such gifts of oratory are not given to us all. But the power and beauty of these words, and also their extraordinary relevance to what is happening today in the world of work should I think inspire us today and as we go forward.

I can assure you that they ring loud in my ears as I receive these keys.

Director-General, Colleagues,

The goal of social justice remains a distant prospect for many millions. Because of that, peace is not secure. And so the challenges ahead are as urgent as they are immense.

But that does not mean that more than nine decades of ILO work has been in vain. Far from it. The world is a better, fairer and safer place for what the ILO has achieved.

That is due to the engagement of those represented by these three keys. It is due to those who have worked for our Organization and it is due to those who have led it.

The nine ILO Director-Generals – Thomas, Butler, Winant, Phelan, Morse, Jenks, Blanchard, Hansenne, and Juan Somavia brought extraordinary talent and commitment to the task of steering the Organization in often turbulent times. I am truly humbled to be joining the company of these outstanding men. And yes, they have all been men!

My privilege and good fortune since first coming to the ILO as a junior member of the British delegation in 1981 has been to have known three Directors-General. I am also proud to share my town of birth with another.

But it is to the ninth Director-General, Juan Somavia, with whom I have worked so closely for many years that I want to dedicate my comments now.


Our respective paths to the responsibilities that you today pass to me have been quite different. Our professional and geographical origins are different. It may be that our temperaments are different.

Yet for nearly two decades now those paths have intertwined in a most remarkable way. Since the 1995 World Social Summit when I first met you, through the campaign that brought you to the ILO, to my years as your first Chef de Cabinet at the ILO, then when I returned to leadership in the international trade union movement, and more recently as one of your Executive Directors.

This has been an experience which I feel very privileged to have enjoyed. I have learned. I have tried to contribute. And I and the people I have led have benefited beyond measure from what you have done, the person you are. I have come to know you, to understand you as my boss, my colleague, and as my friend.

I have thought a great deal about why it is that our working relationship has proved so exceptional – rewarding as well as productive. I put it down to two things that you have.

Firstly, unparalleled powers of leadership. You confront the most complex situations. You subject them to the most rigorous scrutiny – political and intellectual. You decide what to do. Then you act. And others follow – the road to decent work, to a fair globalization, and much else.

And secondly, and more importantly still I believe, an absolute and permanent belief in social justice. In simply doing what is right – however difficult, and rejecting what is wrong – however easy. This is a rare quality and essential for the job you now relinquish and I take up. Because these are the choices the ILO demands of us.

It is exactly this that I believe has united us professionally and personally over these last decades. It is also the gift that I take from you today along with these keys. I will strive to make the best use of it.

In turn, it is my honour to hand to you, with my deepest gratitude and, I know that of all of us at the ILO, these replicas in recognition of all that you have done and the precious heritage that you leave to us.

Guy Ryder