Akiko’s Blog No. 38: "75th Anniversary of the Declaration of Philadelphia"

A new emperor ascended to the throne on 1 May, bringing in the new era of Reiwa, or “beautiful harmony”.

The Japanese government revised the economic assessment down in its monthly economic report this month, noting that production and export showed a weakness. It cast some shadow over the prospect, though they retained the expression of “recovery at a moderate pace". As for the situation in the job market, labour shortage remains severe.

This year’s centenary International Labour Conference will be held from 10 to 21 June in Geneva. Items on the agenda include the second discussion on setting the standard on violence and harassment against women and men in the world of work, adoption of the ILO centenary outcome document, and thematic debates related to the Future of Work, etc.

The Japanese House of Councillors passed bills related to mandatory preventive measures on power harassment at workplace on 29 May, ahead of the new convention. These bills make it mandatory for companies to take preventative measures, such as setting up help desk at work, clearly defining power harassment as “excessive words and behaviour by people who take advantage of their superior positions, harming the working environment.” In the meantime, the world is awaiting the outcome of the ILC discussion on the adoption of the standard.

This year, Japan is hosting various international events including G20. May saw youth-driven Y20 as well as T20 consisting of think tank members held in this country, and their communique were handed to Prime Minister Abe, who chairs G20.

This month, I visited Dokkyo and Chuo Universities to talk about the ILO’s activities. Also, we will have the ILO Centenary seminar on Labour Dimension of CSR – Sophia University UN Week, “Efforts of government, employers and workers towards decent work of migrant workers” at Sophia University on 31 May.

And now, we’ll take a look at the Declaration of Philadelphia, as it is the 75th anniversary this year since it was adopted unanimously to give a powerful boost to the ILO’s social mission on 10 May, 1944 at the ILC held in Philadelphia, the USA.

The ILO provides declarations, codes of practice, guidelines, as other forms of standards in addition to conventions and recommendations. They serve the important role of providing guidance on significant changes in the realm of work, since they are not legally-binding, requiring simple procedures to adopt, enabling swift response. Other than the Declaration of Philadelphia, well-known examples are the 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, and the 2008 Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization. The ILO centenary outcome document, which will be adopted at this year’s ILC, will also take the form of a declaration.

The ILO Secretariat, based in Geneva, Switzerland, was on a temporary exile in Montreal, Canada at the time of the Declaration of Philadelphia, escaping the war-ravaged Europe. With the end of war on the horizon, the ILO felt the need to reaffirm the founding principles and adapt them to the new realities and the wish for a better world; this idea crystallized in the Declaration concerning the aims and purposes of the ILO.

Edward Phelan, the then ILO Acting Director, called it “the crown and confirmation of the efforts of those who drew up the Constitution twenty-five years ago”, referring to the Declaration, of which he was the principal author, and noted that it “sets a North Star by which national and international authorities may steer their course with greater certainty than heretofore towards the promotion of the common welfare of mankind as the destination which must be reached whatever economic storms may be encountered.”

The Declaration extended the scope of the ILO activities by declaring that human rights for all should be at the centre, insisting that this should be the central aim of all national and international policies. The ILO acknowledges the need to examine and consider “all international economic and financial policies and measures in the light of this fundamental objective.” The Philadelphia Declaration can be seen as one of the visionary documents that contributed to forming of the world order after the WWII and set down guiding principles within the framework of that order to guide every economic and financial policy and measure. The Declaration, annexed to the ILO Constitution in 1946, has informed various international instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It sets down the following famous fundamental principles:

(a) labour is not a commodity.
(b) freedom of expression and of association are essential to sustained progress;
(c) poverty anywhere constitutes a danger to prosperity everywhere;
(d) the war against want requires to be carried on with unrelenting vigour within each nation, and by continuous and concerted international effort in which the representatives of workers and employers, enjoying equal status with those of governments, join with them in free discussion and democratic decision with a view to the promotion of the common welfare.

These are as relevant today as they were 75 years ago, affecting the ILO now as it prepares for its next century.