Opening of 85th International Labour Conference: Director-General Renews Call for Strengthened Standards

ILO/97/15

Press release | 03 June 1997

ILO/97/15

GENEVA (ILO News) - The 85th session of the International Labour Conference, which opened this morning in Geneva, elected as its President Mrs. Olga Keltosová, Minister of Labour, Social Affairs and Family of the Slovak Republic. Mrs. Keltosová is the second woman to serve as President of the Conference and the first from a central European country since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

In her acceptance speech, she said that "globalization and the realization of ILO goals are interconnected." While calling for social progress and protection of worker rights, she said that "every state, company, multinational enterprise and individual should receive its share from the benefit of globalization."

She highlighted the need to increase observance of core ILO standards and strengthen the control mechanisms to ensure compliance. She applauded the efforts of the ILO Director-General Michel Hansenne to obtain universal ratification of seven "core" conventions and noted the Slovak Republic's intention to ratify all seven by the end of this year.

These seven core Conventions concern: Freedom of association and collective bargaining (No. 87 and No. 98); Forced labour (No. 29 and No. 105); Non-discrimination (No. 100 and No. 111); Minimum age (No. 138).

Other Officers of the Conference chosen this morning are: Mr. Ali Khalil (Syria), Government Vice-President; Mrs. L Sasso-Mazzufferi (Italy), Employer Vice-President; and Mr. F. Ramirey-Leon (Venezuela), Worker Vice-President.

In an opening address to the plenary session, Michel Hansenne called upon delegates to use the Conference to strengthen the ILO's standard-setting function: "It is the ILO's standards that will determine the place that the Organization occupies in the coming century, because it is through them that the ILO can make its most valuable contribution to a world economic system based on the liberalization of trade and genuine multilateralism."

"The time has come", he added, "to sum up the three years of debate (...) on the social dimension of the liberalization of trade, and to draw a few conclusions. He called on "the ILO to adopt a solemn declaration reaffirming the universal respect of all its Members for fundamental workers' rights, whether or not the relevant Conventions have been ratified."

"I am not talking of modifying the mandate of our Organization", he stressed, "but rather enabling it to carry out that mandate fully so as to achieve its objectives and live up to the expectations placed in it."

With respect to proposals for "an overall social label," he noted the many unilateral initiatives, which exist and are multiplying. He stressed that the proposal he was making was aimed "at strengthening the multilateral and voluntary framework constituted by the ILO, in which countries, and especially developing countries, are not just pawns in a game but active partners whose voices and interests are properly taken heed of."

He emphasized that a system of social labelling, whatever form it takes "bears absolutely no relation to a social clause, since, unlike the social clause which subordinates the free circulation of goods and services, and hence their access to national markets, to the observance of certain social standards, it is designed solely to provide information without introducing any manner of restriction or curtailing anyone's freedom of action."