World Council of Churches

Eine weltweite Gemeinschaft von Kirchen auf der Suche nach Einheit, gemeinsamem Zeugnis und Dienst

International Labour Organization

14 February 2006

Plenary on economic justice

Mr Juan Somavia is director-general of the Internationa Labour Organization (ILO)

Dear friends,

Please allow me to address you in these familiar terms, in view of the solid and long-standing relations between the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Even before the Second World War, the ILO enjoyed close ties with those who were preparing the birth of the WCC. As you are well aware, they wished to give all Christian churches, gathered within a single institution, greater visibility and weight in social and political discussions and action to guide world development towards greater Justice and Peace.

As time has passed, these relations have continued to strengthen.

Shortly after my arrival at the ILO, Konrad RAISER and I very quickly understood that we were pursuing the same objective: how could we, together, respond more effectively to the calls of the poorest and most vulnerable in the world?

If we take the time to listen to them, we can see that, over and above emergency relief, what they are seeking and calling for is work: work which associates them with the creation of our world; work which gives just access to its resources; work which respects and ensures respect for their human dignity as men and women with sufficient income to bring up their children in dignity; or, in short, Decent Work.

Several of the subjects that you are covering are directly related to the ILO's concerns.

The first is violence, and particularly "Youth overcoming violence". If youth is to contribute its full capacities to this cause, it has to be properly educated. Yet today too many children are compelled too early in their lives to earn their livelihood or that of their families in mines, domestic work outside their own homes and in many other activities. All their innate creativity is thus condemned to remain unfulfilled. Worse still, vulnerable and exposed, they are at risk of being the first to be affected by the violence which so often coexists with deep-rooted poverty.

The ILO's most important cooperation programme is concerned with the eradication of child labour. Moreover, at the Millennium Summit, the Heads of State emphasized the need to find decent and productive work for young people. In this context, the ILO has been called upon to take the lead in a Youth Employment Network, in close cooperation with the Secretariat of the United Nations and the World Bank. Already, 19 countries have committed themselves at the highest level to implementing a national action plan on youth employment.

A second theme that you are addressing is Economic justice, in relation to which you affirm that "A world without poverty is possible". In 2003, my report to the International Labour Conference set out the same convictions under the title "Working out of poverty". The ILO has since engaged in many efforts at the global, regional and national levels to show how whole communities can escape from poverty through decent work. At the United Nations Summit held in September 2005 in New York, the Heads of State recognized and called for the expansion of these efforts in their final statement, emphasizing the link between the sustainable reduction of poverty and the creation of decent work.

One joint activity by our two institutions was directed by Sam KOBIA of the World Council of Churches and relates perfectly to the third theme of your Assembly on religious plurality. We undertook an in-depth examination of the ILO's Decent Work Agenda from the viewpoint of all the major philosophical and spiritual traditions underlying the principal cultures in an attempt to give meaning to genuinely humane development for each and every person within our common humanity. We established a very diversified inter-cultural group of women and men from the world over, which engaged in highly productive exchanges over a period of one year. The convergence of views, enriched by the specificities of the various traditions, are set out in a joint work published by the ILO and the World Council of Churches: "Philosophical and spiritual perspectives on decent work". This work emphasizes the importance of developing, above and beyond face-to-face, and sometimes confrontational inter-denominational dialogue, collaborative side-by-side dialogue in which everyone joins together in trying to respond to a pressing topical issue. This type of discussion gives rise to vigorous consensus, which is clarified and enriched by the differences added by each participant in response to practical issues.

Once again, in our common advance, we can see the extent to which the major concerns of the WCC meet those of the ILO. That is why we accepted with great pleasure your invitation to be present in Porto Alegre. I would have most willingly attended in person, had my obligations in relation to the Maritime Conference not required my presence in Geneva. But I felt it important that Dominique PECCOUD should represent our Organization during the whole of your Assembly and a CD-ROM has been produced for all participants containing a number of documents on the three subjects of your debates.

Our struggle to attain greater social justice which gives practical recognition to the dignity of each individual is as legitimate as it is difficult. Our collaboration has been productive for both our organizations. Together, we can hope to achieve objectives which it would be impossible to attain separately. The ILO today needs your support in its combat to create more job opportunities that are synonymous with human dignity. In response to your prayer "God, in your grace, transform the world", there can be no doubt that the first gift that He is ready to accord us is that of working together. Just as you can count on the availability of the ILO, I count on you to support our Organization's action for decent work.

Thank you.