GENEVA (AN) – The International Labor Organization’s governing body elected Togo's former prime minister, Gilbert Houngbo, to serve as its next director-general, making him the first African to hold the post. He promised to be a "unifying" force for the world's workers.
Houngbo, who is president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, will begin serving a five-year term as ILO's 11th director-general at the start of October.
Both the Rome-based IFAD and Geneva-based ILO are global agencies within the United Nations family. IFAD works to eliminate poverty and hunger in rural areas of developing countries, while ILO's mission since its founding in 1919 is to advance social and economic justice through international labor standards.
“Although my origins are African my perspective is global. In an age, unfortunately of dividedness, my commitment to be a unifying director-general stands firm," he said.
"I’m thinking about the 4 billion people around the world who do not have access to social protection," he said. "I’m thinking about the 200-plus million of women and men who face unemployment. The 160 million children in child labor. The 1.6 billion people in the informal sector."
A voice for 'social injustice'
Houngbo, who was chosen for the job over four other candidates from Australia, France, South Africa and South Korea, emphasized that small- and medium-sized enterprises are facing supply chain disruptions or closure because of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and armed conflict.
He also acknowledged that women and men face discrimination, violence and harassment in the workplace and elsewhere, which are "all expressions of unacceptable social injustice that we are morally if not legally bound to address.”
With a background in business management and finance, Houngbo, who grew up in Togo, also has citizenship in Canada, where he worked as a charterered accountant. He took over IFAD in 2017, helping guide the financial and granting institution's work to support the world’s poorest rural farmers.
At ILO he will replace Britain's Guy Ryder, who is nearing the end of his second five-year term since 2012. Ryder has focused on reforming ILO's central and field operations and other priorities such as promoting the importance of decent jobs in building world peace.