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Profile: Juan Somavía

"We can set a new standard for humanity by consigning the enslavement of children in these worst forms of child labour and exploitation to the scrap heap of history."

-- Juan Somavía
in The Progress of Nations 2000

Copyright c ILO/G. CabreraJuan Somavía, Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), is an attorney with a long and distinguished career in civil and international affairs. He participated in restoring democracy in his native land of Chile through his role as President of the International Commission of the Democratic Coalition in Chile and as Secretary-General of the South American Peace Commission. He has also held several high-level positions with the United Nations.

Mr. Somavía was elected Director-General of the ILO, based in Geneva, in March 1999. At the top of his agenda is finding solutions to the problems of child labour, workers' rights, poverty, unemployment, gender discrimination and inadequate social protection.

As the first head of the ILO from the developing world, Mr. Somavía says, "I recognize my special responsibility to ensure that the development dimension is integral to all ILO activities…. Let us set ourselves the ambitious task of extending prosperity, rights and benefits to all working people in the world of the 21st century."

Copyright c ILO/G. Cabrera

Born on 21 April 1941, Mr. Somavía earned degrees in law and economics from the Catholic University of Chile and the University of Paris. As Permanent Representative of Chile to the United Nations from 1990 to early 1999, he served twice as President of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), in 1993 and 1998. Mr. Somavía represented Chile in the UN Security Council, in 1996-1997, and he served twice as President of the Security Council, in April 1996 and October 1997.

In recognition of his contribution to peace and human rights, Mr. Somavía was awarded the Leonidas Proaño Peace Prize by the Latin American Human Rights Association. He is also the recipient of the Rene Sand Award of the International Council on Social Welfare, which honours outstanding contributions to social development.

On taking office as ILO Director-General, Mr. Somavía pledged "creativity and modernization" for the organization, whose historic role -- since its founding in 1919 -- was to bring social and political stability to industrialized countries.

"We have agreed internationally to promote open societies and open economies," Mr. Somavía said. "That consensus will not hold if real benefits for ordinary people and their families are not put into the equation."

Juan Somavía speaks out on child labour. Click on a question, to view the video answer. You will need the RealPlayer, available from Real Networks.

Why are children in the worst forms of labour thought of as hidden or 'lost children'?

What kinds of work do these lost children do?

How can the International Labour Organization's new Convention help the 60 million most exploited working children?

Juan Somavía speaks about working children


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