GENEVA — The International Labor Organization focused on ways of spreading social justice through dignified work while commemorating its 100th anniversary on Monday as the sole survivor of World War I-era institutions set up to help keep peace.
The centenary featured prominently at the opening of the ILO’s International Labor Conference for 5,000 delegates from 187 nations between June 10 and 21. The ILO, created in 1919 as part of the Treaty of Versailles that helped end the 20th century’s first global catastrophe, was at first affiliated with the League of Nations. When that folded in the wake of World War II, ILO became a U.N. specialized agency in 1946.
“Many modern rights are rooted in the ILO’s constant commitment to the dignity of all human beings wherever they work, and whatever their occupation,” Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella, whose nation helped found ILO a century ago, told the labor conference.
“Peace is possible only in a context of social justice,” he said, noting that 200 million people are unemployed around the world and nearly 1 billion live in poverty. “Labor is one of the most effective pillars of world peace.”
Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo described the importance of the organized labor movement — including a strike by Ghana’s miners in 1919 — to his nation’s independence in 1957, when the U.K. relinquished control.
Though his nation is Africa’s biggest gold producer, he said, just 2 million of Ghana’s 13 million workers have “formal” employment because the nation’s economy is dominated by low-value service activities in the informal sector.
“We are committed to a new social contract,”said Akufo-Addo. “We in Africa have a responsibility to make our countries attractive to our young generations. They should feel they have an attractive nation if they stay at home and help build their nations.”
He urged all ILO member nations to “improve the quality of working lives, close gender gaps, reverse the damage caused by global inequalities and climate change, and more importantly, also share in the discharge of the responsibility towards a more sustainable future which guarantees we leave no one behind.”
Others among the 40 heads of state and leaders slated to attend were German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, Russia’s Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa and Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven.
It's a historic moment here in Geneva where more than 5,000 delegates from every corner of the world have gathered for the Centenary Session of the International Labour Conference.
— Guy Ryder (@GuyRyder) June 10, 2019
#MeToo in the workplace
The United Nations’ labor agency and its adherents were celebrating the centenary in unusual ways around the world — some by going sky diving, mountaineering and sailing. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres also was scheduled to address the labor conference’s closing session.
Delegates to the world’s foremost gathering of labor officials also were being asked to consider a new convention on harassment and violence in the workplace. The ILO, as the only international organization of its kind that combines representatives of governments, employers and workers, said it identified workplace harassment and violence as an important issue in 2015 — before the #MeToo movement emerged.
The measure would universally define workplace harassment and guarantee workers’ rights against violence. ILO’s Director-General Guy Ryder emphasized that the organization and labor leaders must use tremendous innovation and creativity to help workers keep up with enormous changes in the workplace.
“We believe that through the ILO social justice will be established in the world,” Ryder said in opening the conference.
“Today there is still too much turmoil in the world,” he said. “What worked well yesterday may not work tomorrow. Things that we saw no need to do in the past we will need to do in the future, and that includes integrating environmental sustainability into all areas.”