Geneva — The United Nations agency responsible for setting international standards for the treatment of workers and improving living standards throughout the world has elected an African to lead it for the first time.
The governing body of the International Labour Organization, comprising representatives of government, workers and employers, elected Gilbert F. Houngbo from Togo as its 11th Director-General during a meeting in Geneva on March 25. He was one of two Africans among the five candidates considered for the post.
“Although my origins are African my perspective is global,” Houngbo said after his election.
“In an age, unfortunately of dividedness, my commitment to be a unifying Director-General stands firm,” he added.
“Governments, employers and workers alike, from all regions across the world, can rely and should rely on my total readiness to represent and advocate the views of all tripartite constituents of the organization.”
The new Director-General’s five-year term will begin on October 1. The current Director-General, Guy Ryder from the United Kingdom, has held the office since 2012.
The other candidates were: Kang Kyung-wha, formerly Minister of Foreign Affairs of South Korea; Mthunzi Mdwaba of South Africa, formerly Employers’ Vice-Chairperson of the ILO Governing Body; Muriel Pénicaud, former Minister of Labour of France and Greg Vines, formerly a minister in the Australian government.
Houngbo is currently President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
Committing himself to represent the voices of all, he said “I’m thinking about the four billion people around the world who do not have access to social protection… I’m thinking about the 200-plus million women and men who face unemployment, the 160 million children in child labour – the 1.6 billion people in the informal sector.”
The day before Houngbo’s election, the ILO’s governing body had temporarily suspended technical cooperation assistance to Russia, except for humanitarian assistance. Invitations to Russia to attend discretionary meetings of experts, conferences and seminars are also suspended. The body said the suspensions would last until ceasefire in Russia’s war with Ukraine is agreed and a peaceful resolution implemented.
The ILO is a specialized agency with three strands of membership – governments, employers and organized labour.