ILO is a specialized agency of the United Nations

268th Session
Geneva, March 1997


Developments in the United Nations in 1996-97

1. A general discussion is foreseen once a year in the Governing Body on developments in the United Nations system. Like previous such papers submitted to the Governing Body at its 259th Session (March 1994), its 262nd Session (March-April 1995), and its 265th Session (March 1996),(1) the present paper is intended as a concise overview of activities in the United Nations system that have a direct bearing on the ILO's involvement in that system. Again this year, particular attention is paid to the ILO's own active participation in this larger system.

2. With the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the United Nations complete, the year 1996 began with little to celebrate. The two dominant issues, carried over from the preceding year, remained the financial crisis and reform of the United Nations. The impact of these concerns was felt throughout the year, touching on and sometimes overshadowing other major activities and events. The election of a new Secretary-General in December allowed 1996 to end with an air of hope. But as a new year began, the financial crisis still loomed large and the ongoing reform process remained far from complete. Eyes and ears were focused as much on Washington as on New York for clues as to what to expect in the year ahead.

3. For the ILO, follow-up on the World Summit for Social Development remained a top priority for its own activities within the United Nations system. As the Governing Body was informed at its 265th Session (March 1996), after accepting an invitation to serve as the lead agency of the ACC Task Force on Employment and Sustainable Livelihoods, the ILO organized a first meeting at ILO headquarters on 25-26 January 1996. Ensuing meetings of the Task Force took place in Geneva on 17 April 1996, in New York on 9 July 1996 and again in Geneva on 6 December 1996. A fifth and perhaps final meeting is now scheduled to take place at ILO headquarters on 7 March 1997. The first four meetings were well attended, with anywhere from 14 to 18 separate UN system organizations actively participating at each meeting.(2)

4. As the Governing Body was informed at its 267th Session (November 1996) in a paper prepared for its Committee on Employment and Social Policy,(3) the Task Force agreed on a framework paper and a set of countries representative of countries in different regions, of different sizes and at different levels of development in which to conduct country reviews. The three country reviews in Chile, Hungary and Nepal, for which the ILO was the lead agency, have now been completed. Each was followed by a successful national seminar to discuss the results. These were well attended by high-level government officials and representatives of trade unions and employers' organizations, as well as by representatives from a broad spectrum of international and regional organizations. The UNDP-led country review in Zambia also was carried out and followed by a successful national seminar. Another UNDP-led country review in Morocco and the UNESCO-led country review in Mozambique have taken place and, as this paper is being written, the remaining two national seminars are imminent.

5. As the Governing Body was also informed in the paper presented to the Committee on Employment and Social Policy in November 1996, the ILO, as the Coordinator of the ACC Task Force on Employment and Sustainable Livelihoods, is responsible for preparing a synthesis report for the April session of the ACC, which draws on the country reviews. The report is intended to contain the main lessons of experience in pursuing full employment and sustainable livelihood objectives as well as recommendations on how the UN system, working together at the country level, can effectively support national efforts to achieve full employment and sustainable livelihoods.(4)

6. The ILO's lead role within the United Nations system for follow-up on the Copenhagen Summit in the field of employment was further reinforced by the work that it was called upon to perform in support of the Commission for Social Development. As part of a multi-year work programme aimed at reviewing progress made in the implementation of and follow-up on the World Summit for Social Development, the Commission, at its special session of 1996, selected "Productive employment and sustainable livelihoods" as the priority theme for its 1997 regular (thirty-fifth) session. The United Nations asked the ILO to serve as task manager for the preparation of a substantive document on the priority theme, with contributions from the United Nations system. In preparing for the thirty-fifth session of the Commission (25 February-6 March 1997), the ILO has worked very closely with the United Nations secretariat, while obtaining the constructive involvement of other members of the UN system in completing the draft report.

7. It will be recalled that, in addition to the Task Force on Employment and Sustainable Livelihoods, the ACC established two other Inter-Agency Task Forces and one Inter-Agency Committee with a view to providing effective UN-system support for the integrated implementation, at the country level, of the action programmes that have emerged from recent UN conferences. The Inter-Agency Task Force on Basic Social Services for All, with the UNFPA as the lead agency, and the Inter-Agency Task Force on an Enabling Environment for Economic and Social Development, with the World Bank as the lead agency, are similar to the ILO-led Task Force in the sense that they are time-bound and expected to complete their work in the first half of 1997. For follow-up on the Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women, however, the ACC decided to set up a permanent committee. The Inter-Agency Committee on Women and Gender Equality has been established, under the responsibility of the UN Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues, as a standing subsidiary mechanism of the ACC, and as such does not have a specific time-frame for executing its work.

8. The ILO has taken an active part in the work of the task forces and the committee. In addition to participating in all of their principal meetings, it has also provided written contributions and assumed other responsibilities consistent with its mandate and work programme.

9. Within the framework of the World Bank-led Task Force on an Enabling Environment for Economic and Social Development, a Subgroup on Capacity Development for Governance was set up under the chairmanship of the UNDP to review agency experience in this area. The ILO has contributed the highlights of its own experience, with particular emphasis on the promotion of fundamental human rights and the encouragement of social dialogue. A second subgroup -- the Subgroup on the Macroeconomic and Social Framework -- is developing country case studies and deriving lessons for future inter-agency coordination in support of such a framework. For this exercise, the ILO is the coordinator for the country case study of Hungary, which it has recently completed.

10. The Task Force on Basic Social Services for All comprises four Working Groups (Basic Education, Primary Health Care, Reproductive Health and International Migration). As convener of the Working Group on International Migration, the ILO organized a fruitful meeting in Geneva. This Working Group agreed to update the guidance notes on issues in international migration and development, issued in 1995, and to organize a technical symposium on international migration, to be held in 1998. Also within the framework of the Task Force, the ILO is a member of the core group that is preparing a set of case studies on lessons learned in social-sector assistance.

11. The last of the recent round of major world conferences, which began with the UN Conference for Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, took place in 1996. The Governing Body was informed in detail at its 267th Session (November 1996)(5) of the outcome and follow-up activities of the Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), held in Istanbul from 3 to 15 June 1996, and of its implications for the ILO.

12. Last year's paper to the Governing Body reported on the launch of a System-wide Special Initiative on Africa and on the role being played by the ILO as joint lead agency, together with the Economic Commission for Africa, of the Working Group on poverty reduction through support of the informal sector and employment generating opportunities. The ILO is currently finalizing a programme of action for presentation at a meeting of the ACC Steering Committee of the Special Initiative on Africa to be held in Geneva in April. In addition, within the context of the Special Initiative, the ILO is carrying out, with UNDP funding, a large programme on employment generation for poverty reduction in sub-Saharan Africa (Jobs for Africa).

13. The Substantive Session of ECOSOC was held in New York from 24 June to 26 July 1996. Ms. Katherine Hagen, Deputy Director-General, delivered two statements in plenary which highlighted the importance that the ILO attaches to employment, human rights and consensus building. Addressing the High-level Meeting on operational activities of the United Nations for international development cooperation on the theme "Strengthening collaboration between the United Nations development system and the Bretton Woods institutions", Ms. Hagen stressed that the common ground between the ILO and the other organizations could be summarized in one word -- employment -- and that the successful implementation of economic reforms is dependent on social initiatives to achieve consensus and active support for reforms. In reference to cooperation with the Bretton Woods institutions, she noted that it was encouraging that so many now saw that sound economic policies needed to be accompanied by social policies like those addressed in the ILO's mandate. In a statement to the Coordination Segment on an item entitled "Coordination of the United Nations system activities for poverty eradication", the Deputy Director-General again emphasized the importance of employment promotion in the fight against poverty. The ILO, she reported, was working closely with the UN system and particularly with the Bretton Woods institutions to stimulate a coordinated response at the country and the regional level to promote employment and sustainable livelihoods and measures to improve access of the poor to productive resources. She stressed that the ILO considered it vital to ensure that poverty eradication measures undertaken by all parts of the UN system do so on the basis of respect for fundamental human rights.

14. At the conclusion of the 1996 Substantive Session of ECOSOC, the Council adopted a resolution (1996/43, paragraphs 4-5) recommending the scheduling of a high-level special meeting at a time close to the semi-annual meetings of the Bretton Woods institutions, to benefit from high-level ministerial participation and the participation of the heads of financial and trade institutions and other relevant organizations. Subsequently, the General Assembly also called on ECOSOC to schedule such a high-level meeting periodically in proximity to the semi-annual meetings of the Bretton Woods institutions (Resolution 50/227, paragraph 88). Discussions are under way between the UN Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development and the Bretton Woods institutions for the scheduling of the first of these meetings, possibly in April 1997, but more probably in April 1998.

15. The agenda of the Second and Third Committees of the General Assembly once again provided the ILO with an opportunity to highlight ILO approaches and publicize the work being carried out in more specific areas falling within the Organization's mandate. Five separate statements were delivered, aiming to raise awareness and understanding on the part of UN delegates of what the ILO stands for and is working to achieve in the areas of child labour, indigenous and tribal peoples, the advancement of women, cooperatives and follow-up on Habitat II. The General Assembly also offered a similar opportunity to focus on the ILO's approach to the employment of workers with disabilities.

16. Child labour remained a burning issue in the United States, with both the Washington and New York Offices receiving a steady stream of requests for interviews, documentation and best practices information throughout the year. In October, the Director-General and Executive Director of UNICEF, Ms. Carol Bellamy, signed a letter of intent at ILO headquarters.(6) In announcing plans to strengthen their cooperation in the global fight against child labour, the two organizations agreed to take steps to ensure coherent positions on policy and practice in regard to child labour and to cooperate in all countries where field activities were undertaken. In November, the New York Liaison Office took advantage of the presence in New York of the former director of the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) to organize at the United Nations a stimulating briefing on IPEC and the recently released ILO report, Child labour: Targeting the intolerable.

17. The Governing Body was informed in last year's report on developments in the United Nations of three UN reform exercises of potential interest to the ILO. These were (a) the Informal Consultations on the Restructuring and Revitalization of the United Nations in the Economic, Social and Related Fields; (b) the Ad Hoc Open-ended Working Group of the General Assembly on An Agenda for Development; and (c) the Open-ended High-level Working Group on the Strengthening of the United Nations System. These groups are operating within the UN itself, but they have potential implications for reforms in the larger UN system.

18. Of these, only the first completed its work during 1996. On 24 May 1996 the General Assembly adopted by consensus a resolution (50/227) on "Further measures for the restructuring and revitalization of the United Nations in the economic, social and related fields". Yet the resolution may be seen more as the beginning rather than the completion of a process of change in the workings of the economic and social sectors of the United Nations. It combines specific recommendations that are already being put into effect, such as the shortening of ECOSOC's Substantive Session from five weeks to four, with provisions whose eventual implementation requires further discussion, such as that calling on the General Assembly and ECOSOC, in accordance with their respective mandates, to examine all aspects of the funding of UN operational activities. Nevertheless, the 1997 Substantive Session of ECOSOC will offer a true test of the Council's ability to give effect to recommendations aimed at improving preparedness, consolidating issues, better focusing debates, broadening outside participation and strengthening outcomes. With respect to the General Assembly, the resolution calls for better coordination of the agenda of the Second (Economic and Financial) and the Third (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) Committee to promote greater coherence and complementarity between their work.

19. In operative paragraph 5, Resolution 50/227 invites the specialized agencies, organizations and other bodies of the United Nations system to implement the measures for restructuring within their respective areas of competence, as appropriate. References to the specialized agencies in the attached annex are, however, fairly limited. Most notably, representatives of the specialized agencies as well as the UN secretariat are requested to provide executive briefings on matters pertaining to the agenda of the General Assembly at least one week prior to its opening and, in a section on inter-agency coordination, there is a call for a close review of the relationship of the Economic and Social Council with the specialized agencies in the context of the discussions on An agenda for development.

20. The Governing Body was informed last year that the work of the Ad Hoc Open-ended Working Group of the General Assembly on An Agenda for Development mentioned above had become a long drawn-out exercise. The Working Group held four sessions in 1996, in the course of which it continued its examination of Chapter I -- "Setting and objectives" -- and Chapter II -- "Policy framework including means of implementation" -- on the basis of a revised synthesis text prepared by the two Vice-Chairmen. It made three attempts to push forward agreement on Chapter III of the Agenda -- "Institutional issues and follow-up". From the standpoint of UN reform, the latter is the most important chapter and is also proving the most difficult to navigate. The draft document makes the case for, and sets out the broad lines of, a strong role for the United Nations in development. It argues that the present fragmentation of decision-making processes in the economic and social domains seriously impedes the effectiveness of the United Nations in the field of development, and affirms that, in this regard, the relationship of the Secretary-General with the specialized agencies is crucial and needs to be further enhanced. It calls for the creation of a new position of Deputy Secretary-General with overall responsibility for all international development cooperation and sustainable development policy issues. In line with this proposal, two new Under Secretaries-General would report to the Deputy Secretary-General, with one responsible for development policy and normative work, and the other for the coordination of operational activities. This Working Group, whose mandate has been extended into the Fifty-First Session by the General Assembly, has a long way to go to reach agreement on Chapter III and is now under pressure to meet the mid-year deadline that the Secretary-General has set for the completion of its work. It is currently scheduled to hold another set of meetings in April.

21. Following three organizational meetings in late 1995, the Open-ended High-level Working Group on the Strengthening of the United Nations System, mentioned above, held a series of substantive sessions throughout 1996. It focused on two specific areas -- the General Assembly and the UN Secretariat -- while keeping open the possibility of taking up other subjects under other matters. While successive deliberations resulted in a convergence of views on many issues, such as the need to make the process of selecting the Secretary-General more transparent and enhance the role of the General Assembly in the selection process, and the need to link the Medium-Term Plan to the budget process, others remained unresolved, and the General Assembly decided that the Working Group should continue its work into the Fifty-First Session. Outstanding issues at this stage include the process of selection and the term of office of the Secretary-General, the level of priority or budget area on which the budgetary process should focus, the number, specific scope and designation of senior managers, including various proposals for one, two or four Deputy Secretaries-General, and the question of giving practical effect to links between civil society and the General Assembly. As with the Working Group on An agenda for development, here too there is a need to bear in mind the Secretary-General's wish for the Working Group's discussions to result in a package of reform proposals by June. A further set of meetings has been scheduled for the month of June.

22. The High-level Open-ended Working Group on the Financial Situation of the United Nations, after two years of discussions encompassing a wide range of financial issues, will also have to advance its work in 1997, and in particular bring to a close the negotiations for a new scale of assessments for the period 1998-2000. Among the other issues that this Working Group must continue to deal with in 1997, the following are of note: (a) the payment by member States of their contributions in full and on time; (b) the problem of arrears in the payment of contributions by member States; and (c) the cash-flow situation of the Organization.

23. The Secretary-General is likely to draw on concrete proposals that come out of the intergovernmental reform exercises already under way, but he has entered office with his own ideas and approach to reform. In ways that are within his authority, he has already begun to streamline the secretariat and plans to announce "Phase I" of his reforms by the end of the first quarter of 1997. Moreover, he has appointed Mr. Maurice Strong as Executive Coordinator to assist and advise him on reform, including pulling together all the studies and analyses on reform done inside and outside the UN secretariat. The Secretary-General has also announced the formation of a Steering Committee for UN Reform and a cabinet-style policy coordination group, which has been further broken down into four core groups covering peace and security, humanitarian issues, development issues, and social and economic matters. Furthermore, he has identified human rights as another area of concern which cuts across all of the core groups. In consultation with governments and with the President of the General Assembly, the Secretary-General aims to develop a reform package by mid-summer. This would form Phase II of his reform initiative, involving changes that would benefit from consultation with governments or would require action by the General Assembly. He hopes that governments will approve the package at the General Assembly in autumn. In Phase III, the Secretary-General plans to examine the UN agencies and consider how they might be brought into a coordinated system-wide reform effort. While he has noted that much more consultation is needed for this phase, he has already indicated that it would include a review of the mandates of the agencies and a decision on whether all of them should continue.

24. For its part, the Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC) adopted at its second session of 1996 a Joint Statement on Reform and Strengthening of the United Nations System (Appendix). Areas covered by the statement where the Office has been especially active include: management reforms (paragraph 4), the strengthening of country-level impact (paragraph 6), and leadership of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Employment and Sustainable Livelihoods (paragraph 7). Among the number of broad objectives on which ACC will focus in the context of the reform process (paragraph 11), of particular relevance to ILO involvement is the issue of the implications of globalization and liberalization and the links between trade, finance and social development, with respect to which the ILO is specifically mentioned, along with the financial and trade institutions. Poverty eradication through the creation of employment and sustainable livelihoods -- including means of elaborating and implementing international legal instruments -- is another eminent domain of ILO activity, as is the mainstreaming of gender issues in its fields of competence, as well as support for the promotion of effective democratic governance and respect for human rights, an objective that closely corresponds to the constant ILO endeavour to disseminate and strengthen tripartism and labour standards.

Geneva, 5 March 1997.

1. GB.259/5/9; GB.262/5; GB.265/5.

2. See also GB.268/ESP/2.

3. GB.267/ESP/1.

4. GB.268/ESP/2.

5. GB.267/5.

6. GB.268/ESP/4.


ACC Joint Statement

Reform and strengthening of the United Nations system

1. The Secretary-General and the Executive Heads of all the specialized agencies and United Nations Programmes and Funds, meeting in the Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC) under the Secretary-General's chairmanship on 25 and 26 October 1996, reviewed the overall direction of on-going reform processes within the United Nations system, and their implications for the strengthening of the system.

2. They reaffirmed their individual and collective commitment to pursue and intensify the reform effort, in order to strengthen effectiveness and impact in meeting the changing requirements of Member States.

3. Organizations of the United Nations system have been responsive to the changing international environment and to the evolving demands of Member States. They have reviewed, individually and collectively, policy orientations and are redefining priorities and refocusing programmes and activities, while, at the same time, enhancing efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

4. Central to these efforts are the far-reaching management reforms being introduced in the organizations of the system. Significant inter-governmental reforms and other organizational changes are also being actively pursued. These have included reviews of mission statements and strategies, and progress in streamlining inter-governmental structures and processes to reduce costs and increase efficiency. Information on all of these processes is being shared and will be disseminated throughout the system. This should help ensure that these processes are mutually supportive, that implications for other organizations are identified and taken into account, and that best practices are institutionalized and drawn upon system-wide.

5. ACC underscored the importance of ensuring that inter-governmental reforms progress in parallel with managerial and other organizational reforms. Secretariat and inter-governmental reforms should draw strength from each other and influence each other's course in a positive way. As the experience of a number of organizations shows, this is key to ensuring that the reform process genuinely contributes to overall organizational effectiveness.

6. At the inter-agency level, on-going measures to enhance programme complementarity are being accompanied by a renewed effort at identifying and focusing on common priority objectives and priority themes; developing joint arrangements to respond to emerging requirements; and concerting overall policies and strategies. The strengthening of country-level coordination and country-level impact is a key objective and measure of this effort.

7. With the adoption of clear principles to guide its work, and more focused, policy-oriented agendas, the effectiveness of ACC itself -- as the only forum bringing together the Executive Heads of all organizations of the system, under the chairmanship of the Secretary-General -- is being progressively strengthened in pragmatic ways. The structures of the inter-agency mechanisms supporting the work of ACC and their working methods, including increased use of modern communication technology, have been streamlined and improved. These measures are assisting ACC not only to respond more effectively to system-wide policy guidelines emanating from the central inter-governmental bodies, but also to take new inter-agency initiatives on key global priorities; they will be pursued and deepened in the period ahead. Examples include the decentralized methods of work put in place for the follow-up to Agenda 21; the System-wide Special Initiative on Africa; and the flexible arrangements, including time-bound inter-agency task forces, introduced to support, on a thematic, coordinated basis, country-level actions to implement the results of recent global conferences. A growing number of joint mechanisms expected to contribute to greater system-wide impact have also been launched, such as the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and the jointly co-sponsored programme on HIV-AIDS (UNAIDS). They are intended to take advantage of existing synergies while avoiding institutional proliferation.

8. A common challenge facing the system, in an environment of growing budgetary constraints, is to preserve programme delivery while refocussing programme priorities in response to changing demands. Cost-effectiveness, the most productive use of funds, and maximizing the resources devoted to the delivery of programmes and services of direct benefit to countries, are, and will continue to be, a main concern of the Executive Heads. At the same time, it must be emphasized that the ultimate objective of reforming and revitalizing the system is not about cost-cutting, but about effectiveness and responsiveness. The effort will ultimately succeed only if it is accompanied by sound and predictable funding for programmes and activities.

9. The peace-building and development objectives of the United Nations system require a long-term perspective. The impact of reform measures should be assessed in the same perspective, and not be measured only in the short-term. Effective reform is a process not an event. The consensus achieved at recent global conferences is providing new impetus for revitalizing international cooperation for development and is introducing a coherent framework for system-wide action in support of development. It should, as such, be viewed as an integral component of the reform process.

10. The present movement to strengthen and reform the United Nations system is driven by a confluence of changes in the political, environmental, economic and social domains that are rapidly and fundamentally changing the international context. The system's reform agenda must be organized around substantive objectives, and should have, as its main objective, the strengthening of its capacity to respond effectively to the new challenges before the international community. ACC recognizes its responsibility to contribute actively to this process. It will do so by helping to clarify, from a system-wide perspective, the issues that need to be addressed and formulating appropriate policy advice to facilitate inter-governmental decisions, and by deepening system-wide coordination and cooperation, thereby demonstrating that the organizations of the system can work together in a coherent and cost-effective manner to meet the changing needs of Member States.

11. In this perspective, ACC identified a number of broad objectives around which it intends to focus its contribution to the reform process in the period ahead. Among them:

12. Heads of State and Government, gathered on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations, pledged "to give to the twenty-first century a United Nations equipped, financed and structured to serve effectively the peoples for which it was established".

13. The present international context offers unprecedented opportunities for growth and development, and for realizing the objective of promoting "social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom" which lies at the heart of the missions of the organizations of the United Nations system. At the same time, new global challenges are emerging. They require comprehensive solutions which the organizations of the United Nations system, working together with unity of purpose, are uniquely equipped to advance.

14. The basic objective of the reform processes underway is to adapt the functioning of the United Nations system to these challenges, so that it can respond to them with maximum impact and cost-effectiveness. Executive Heads are committed to this effort and appeal to Member States that, in providing policy guidance to these processes, they ensure that the effort is geared to a genuine strengthening of the capacity of the system in the service of humanity.

Updated by VC. Approved by NdW. Last update: 26 January 2000.