Togolese Gilbert Houngbo becomes the first African to head the ILO

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Gilbert Houngbo in September 2017 in New York, United Nations headquarters.

The former Prime Minister of Togo, Gilbert Houngbo, was elected Friday, March 25, at the head of the International Labor Organization (ILO), becoming the first African to exercise this function. “I am deeply and absolutely honored to be the first representative from the Africa region to be chosen to lead the ILO after one hundred and three years” of existence, he said, after his election as the head of the United Nations’ oldest specialized agency.

He was elected in the second round – with 30 votes, against 23 for his main opponent, the former French Minister of Labor Muriel Pénicaud – by the Governing Body of the ILO, composed of 56 representatives of governments, workers and employers. “You wrote history”he assured them.

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The result of the election, he pointed out, “carries strong symbolism”and said: “Your choice (…) responds to the aspirations of a young African, a young African whose humble upbringing turned into a lifelong quest for social justice. » Gilbert Houngbo, 61, is from a rural prefecture in Togo and has spent most of his career in international organizations, where he is seen as a seasoned senior civil servant. He will take office at the beginning of October, succeeding the former British trade unionist Guy Ryder, in office for ten years and who has reached the limit of two terms.

Since 2017, he has headed the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). But he knows the ILO very well, where he held the position of deputy director (2013-2017) in charge of field operations. Former Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, Director of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), he was also a member of the strategic team and administrative and financial director of the organization.

“New Social Contract”

Five candidates were in the running for this election. His main opponent was Pénicaud, supported by the European bloc. Former Minister of Labor from May 2017 to July 2020, the Frenchwoman initiated the major social reforms of Emmanuel Macron’s five-year term, such as those of the Labor Code or unemployment insurance, strongly criticized by the unions. On Twitter, the radical left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the French presidential election pointed out: “Muriel Pénicaud’s ridiculous score in the first round of the election at the head of the International Labor Organization. Phew. A trade unionist very clearly in the lead. »

Also candidates were the former foreign minister of South Korea, Kang Kyung-wha (2 votes), the South African entrepreneur Mthunzi Mdwaba (1 vote) and the Australian Greg Vines, deputy director general of the ILO for Management and Reform, which had been eliminated in the first round.

“My election as CEO comes at a troubled time in history, at a time of uncertainty for what the future may hold.recognized Mr. Houngbo. The world needs an ILO capable of solving the concrete problems of workers and enterprises. »

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The next head of the ILO will have the heavy task of adapting the standards of this century-old organization to a labor market in full mutation under the effect of new technologies. Especially since the Covid-19 pandemic has given a boost to teleworking technologies.

In his candidacy, Gilbert Houngbo emphasized that his vision of the ILO is inspired by the preamble of the organization’s Constitution: “Whereas a universal and lasting peace can only be founded on the basis of social justice. “The progress made in recent decades in terms of social justice must be preserved and protected, he had written. And global solutions to new challenges and opportunities must be centered on human, environmental, economic and societal values. In short, a new global social contract is needed. »

The World with AFP

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