Address by ILO Director-General Gilbert F. Houngbo during the ceremony for transfer of office

Statement | Geneva | 30 September 2022
Thank you Director-General Guy Ryder, for presenting me with these three historic keys. I am deeply conscious of the significance of this act, which symbolizes the handover of responsibility between the tenth and eleventh Director-General of the ILO.

Dear Colleagues,

Je salue tous ceux d’entre vous qui suivent cette cérémonie ici à Genève et ceux ou celles qui sont connectés depuis les régions, le Centre de Turin ou d’autres bureaux extérieurs.

Cet événement marque la fin de la "période de transition". Je tiens à saisir cette occasion pour vous remercier profondément, Monsieur le Directeur général Guy Ryder, pour le soutien constant que vous et votre administration avez apporté à moi-même et à mon équipe de transition au cours de ces six derniers mois, ainsi que pour votre engagement à assurer une transition harmonieuse et sans heurts.

Director-General, Colleagues,

In many ways, the three keys represent a perfect balance between continuity and renewal.

Continuity in ILO’s steadfast commitment to the principles of tripartism and social dialogue. And to the universal values that the organization tirelessly works to champion: peace, social justice and solidarity. The fundamental ideas that forged the ILO one hundred and three years ago still underpin the global pledge to leave no one behind.

And just as all three keys were required to open the doors of the first ILO building in 1926, all three constituents – governments, employers and workers – are required to work together to counter the threats of instability and injustice.

Upon presenting the ILO with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1969, the Chairperson of the Nobel Committee in her award address recalled that “just as peace is indivisible, so also is justice.”

It is our historic responsibility to carry this unity of purpose forward. We know from history that the ILO’s values of tripartism and dialogue have the capacity to make change happen.

Renewal in the act of passing the baton from one administration to another. Not merely substituting it but allowing it to build on the accomplishments of what has gone before. I have the tremendous advantage and privilege of drawing lessons from ten extraordinary Directors-General who served before me. I intend to benefit from their legacy and wisdom as I set out to adapt my mandate to the realities of our time.

I take up office at a difficult moment in history; a moment of unparalleled uncertainty for our generation; and deepfelt doubts for what the future might hold. At present, social justice may appear a distant prospect for many women and men. Against this reality, our ambition must be to reinvigorate the social contract that gives working people a fair deal and a just share of economic progress. That guarantees respect for workers’ rights and protection against risk. That delivers economic security, equal opportunity and social justice – and ultimately reinforces the fabric of our societies. This renewal can only take place with the full engagement and firm leadership of ILO tripartism and social dialogue towards the common good of society.


On 1 March 2013, you appointed me Deputy Director-General for Field Operations and Partnerships in your administration. Allow me on your last working day in office to express my heartfelt and personal gratitude to you for giving me the opportunity to join the ILO family. Working under your leadership was a privilege and an inspiration.

I salute your uncompromising commitment to the ILO’s founding values, your resolute pursuit of technical excellence within the organization’s mandate and your constant respect for our tripartite constituents as a source of insight available uniquely to the ILO. These are qualities I will seek to emulate as I embark on the mandate that has been bestowed upon me.

Through your leadership, the ILO has consolidated its rightful place at the centre of the global policy debate; shaping the discourse on a future of work that is fair and inclusive.

Dear Colleagues,

Allow me also to express a word of personal emotion on this occasion.

It is indeed a proud, yet humbling experience to stand here as the first African recipient of these three keys.

It is testimony not so much to the realization of one individual’s ambition, as to the unfaltering determination of an entire region that the ILO should “continue its struggle to make decent work a global reality”, to quote Nelson Mandela.

I am deeply conscious of the enormity of the challenges of the present context and the weight of the expectations placed on the institution that I will now lead. These are challenges that will not be solved by Africa, Europe, Asia or America – or by governments, employers or workers by themselves. Only through global action, and with tripartite determination can social justice and peace prevail.


In conclusion, it is my privilege and honour to carry history forward by presenting you with these replicas of the three keys, and to thank you – on behalf of the ILO family – for your inestimable service to the organization and its mandate.