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Juan Somavía

Juan Somavía

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Juan Somavía is the current Director-General of the International Labour Organization
International Labour Organization
The International Labour Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations that deals with labour issues pertaining to international labour standards. Its headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland. Its secretariat — the people who are employed by it throughout the world — is known as the...

He was elected to serve as the ninth Director-General
The term director-general is a title given the highest executive officer within a governmental, statutory, NGO, third sector or not-for-profit institution.-European Union:...

 of the ILO by the Governing Body on 23 March 1998.

Term as Director-General

His five-year term of office began on 4 March 1999, when he became the first representative from the Southern hemisphere to head the organization. In March 2003, Somavia was re-elected for a second five-year term. He was re-elected for a third five-year term in November 2008.

Since taking office in 1999, Somavía has taken up the challenge that the rapidly changing economy presents to the ILO. In 1999, he submitted his Decent Work Agenda to the International Labour Conference, which was subsequently endorsed by the Governing Body and the Conference.

The work of the Office has been reorganized around four strategic objectives that make it possible to establish targets and indicators to measure progress and provide the basis of accountability: employment creation, rights at work, social protection and social dialogue.


An attorney by profession, Somavía has had a long and distinguished career in civil and international affairs. His wide experience in all areas of public life - as a diplomat and academic - and his involvement in social development, business and civil organizations have all helped shape his vision of the need to secure decent work
Decent work
Decent work is the availability of employment in conditions of freedom, equity, human security and dignity.According to the International Labour Organization ILO, Decent Work involves opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social...

 for women and men throughout the world.

The following is a list of the positions he held in the United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

 and other inter-governmental organizations before joining the ILO:
    • 1990-99: Permanent Representative of Chile
      Chile ,officially the Republic of Chile , is a country in South America occupying a long, narrow coastal strip between the Andes mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It borders Peru to the north, Bolivia to the northeast, Argentina to the east, and the Drake Passage in the far...

       to the United Nations in New York;
    • 1993-94, 1998-99: President of the United Nations Economic and Social Council
      United Nations Economic and Social Council
      The Economic and Social Council of the United Nations constitutes one of the six principal organs of the United Nations and it is responsible for the coordination of the economic, social and related work of 14 UN specialized agencies, its functional commissions and five regional commissions...

    • 1996-97: Representative of Chile on the United Nations Security Council
      United Nations Security Council
      The United Nations Security Council is one of the principal organs of the United Nations and is charged with the maintenance of international peace and security. Its powers, outlined in the United Nations Charter, include the establishment of peacekeeping operations, the establishment of...

      , including President of the Security Council in April 1996 and October 1997;
    • 1993-95: Chairman of the Preparatory Committee for the World Summit for Social Development, Copenhagen .;
    • 1991-92: Chairman of the Social Committee of the United Nations Economic and Social Council
      United Nations Economic and Social Council
      The Economic and Social Council of the United Nations constitutes one of the six principal organs of the United Nations and it is responsible for the coordination of the economic, social and related work of 14 UN specialized agencies, its functional commissions and five regional commissions...

    • 1990-91: Chairman of the United Nations Third Committee on Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs;
    • 1970-73: Executive Secretary of the Latin American Free Trade Association in Chile; Ambassador of Chile to the Andean Group
      Andean Group
      Andean Group is a trade organization in Lima, Peru. In 1969, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru established the group by the Treaty of Cartagena. In 1973, Venezuela joined. Chile quit in 1976, as did Peru in 1992. The group created a free trade area called the Andean Pact in 1992....

      ; Member and Chairman of the Governing Body of the Andean Group;
    • 1968-70: Ambassador and Adviser to the Foreign Minister of Chile on Economic and Social Affairs, responsible for multilateral issues including the ILO.

Somavía began his career as an academic. From 1967-68, he was lecturer on economic and social issues for GATT's trade policy courses in Geneva. In 1971, he was appointed Professor of International Economic and Social Affairs in the Department of Political Sciences at the Catholic University of Chile, where he highlighted the ILO and its tripartite structure as a case study in international cooperation. Between 1976 and 1990, he was Founder, Executive Director and President of the Latin American Institute of Transnational Studies (ILET), during which time he undertook a number of studies on trade union and social movements in Mexico City and Santiago. From 1996-99, Mr. Somavia was Chairman of the Board of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development
United Nations Research Institute For Social Development
The United Nations Research Institute for Social Development is "an autonomous United Nations agency that carries out research on the social dimensions of contemporary problems affecting development"...

 (UNRISD). Throughout his career, he has written and lectured widely on trade issues and labour and human rights and holds numerous citations and awards for his work in the areas of peace, human rights and social development.

Somavía has always shown a strong interest in development cooperation and economic and social affairs. During the late 1960s, while working in General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade
General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade
The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade was negotiated during the UN Conference on Trade and Employment and was the outcome of the failure of negotiating governments to create the International Trade Organization . GATT was signed in 1947 and lasted until 1993, when it was replaced by the World...

 (GATT), he promoted the participation of developing countries in the Kennedy Round. From 1970-73, Mr. Somavía served as Member and Chairman of the Board of the Andean Development Corporation in Caracas and worked intensively in favour of regional integration. He was also a Member of the Executive Committee of the International Foundation for Development Alternatives in Nyon, Switzerland from 1977–95 and has been on the Advisory Committee of Development Dialogue (published by the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation) for more than 25 years.

Somavía participated actively in the restoration of democracy in Chile. Not only was he President of the International Commission of the Democratic Coalition in Chile but also founder and Secretary-General of the South American Peace Commission (1986–90). For his contribution to peace and human rights, he was awarded the "Leonides Proano Peace Prize" by the Latin American Human Rights Association.

Somavía has been involved in business, financial and civil society organizations for many years. As Executive Secretary of the Chilean-Argentinian Chamber of Commerce he strengthened ties between the business communities in both countries. From 1976-82, Mr. Somavia was Coordinator of the Third World Forum, a network of African, Asian, Latin American and Caribbean social actors. He was also a member of the Board and Vice President for Latin America of the Third World News Agency, Inter Press Service
Inter Press Service
Inter Press Service is a global news agency. Its main focus is the production of independent news and analysis about events and processes affecting economic, social and political development....

 (1976–89) based in Rome. Together with Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Gabriel García Márquez
Gabriel José de la Concordia García Márquez is a Colombian novelist, short-story writer, screenwriter and journalist, known affectionately as Gabo throughout Latin America. He is considered one of the most significant authors of the 20th century. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in...

, Nobel Prize
Nobel Prize
The Nobel Prizes are annual international awards bestowed by Scandinavian committees in recognition of cultural and scientific advances. The will of the Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, established the prizes in 1895...

 winner, Mr. Somavia represented Latin America as a Member of the MacBride Commission on International Communications
MacBride report
Many Voices One World, also known as the MacBride report, was a 1980 UNESCO publication written by the International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems, chaired by Irish Nobel laureate Seán MacBride...

 (1980–82). Finally, he has served as Chairman of the United Nations Committee of Parliamentarians for Global Action
Parliamentarians for Global Action
Parliamentarians for Global Action is a non-profit and non-partisan international organization of more than 1,300 free elected legislators from 130 democratic countries . It was established circa 1978 as Parliamentarians for World Order engaged in a range of action-oriented initiatives that promote...


Born on 21 April 1941, Somavía's early schooling took place in Chile, the Netherlands, Belgium, the United States and Ecuador. In 1958, he returned to his country to read law at the Catholic University of Chile. After graduating in 1962, he continued higher studies in economic development at the School of Law and Economics at the University of Paris
University of Paris
The University of Paris was a university located in Paris, France and one of the earliest to be established in Europe. It was founded in the mid 12th century, and officially recognized as a university probably between 1160 and 1250...

. Somavia was made Laurea Honoris Causa in political sciences by the University of Turin
University of Turin
The University of Turin is a university in the city of Turin in the Piedmont region of north-western Italy...

 in November 2001 and awarded a Doctorate Honoris Causa by the University of Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne in May 2003.

He is married to Adriana Santa Cruz and they have two children.

External links