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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR

STATEMENT OF SECRETARY OF LABOR ALEXIS M. HERMAN CONFERENCE OF THE INTERNATIONAL LABOR ORGANIZATION GENEVA JUNE 15, 1999

Thank you Mr. President. Congratulations on your service and leadership of this conference.

Frances Perkins, the first U.S. Secretary of Labor to address this body more than fifty years ago, reminded the nations of the world that "Social justice can have no meaning except as it eventually leads to social progress. And our task in the ILO," Secretary Perkins continued, "is to clear the ground so that we may build for the future."

For the better part of this century, this body has done just that. It has cleared the ground and laid the foundation for social justice and social progress. Now as we look to a new century, a new economy, and a new set of challenges -- it is our task to build.

To build -- as President Clinton said in an address just a few days ago -- "a global economy with a human face -- one that rewards work everywhere; one that gives all people a chance to improve their lot and still raise their families in dignity; and support communities that are coming together, not being torn apart."

President Clinton believes strongly in that mission -- and this body's mandate. And it is with a great sense of anticipation that I speak to you the day before he will share that message directly with you, as the first American President to come to Geneva to speak to this organization.

It is no simple coincidence that a President of the United States has chosen this moment to reemphasize our relationship to the ILO -- rather it is a reflection of our view that the ILO today confronts a new historical challenge. Imbedded in this challenge is a recognition that the opportunities for peaceful global economic development have never been greater. And our vision of a just world built upon the dignity of work has never been more important.

As we expand global financial and investment flows, we must expand the opportunity for our workers to share in the prosperity created by those investments. As technology becomes increasingly accessible, we must ensure that our workers have the training and resources to prosper in the use of that technology.

As we expand trade, we must ensure that our workers and employers are competing in a world economy premised upon a fundamental and universal set of rights and standards.

We have taken some important steps together in recent years to address these concerns.

The Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and Its Follow Up agreed to last year is a most important political and moral reaffirmation of our fundamental values and commitments. But we must also recognize that our commitments place upon us the responsibility to act.

Thus, we must make certain that our follow up to the Declaration is meaningful and holds us all accountable.

We must back up our resolve with resources to assist those who need it. That is why President Clinton has asked our Congress for additional funding, and why we hope that other donor countries will join this effort.

And to be fully successful, we must also engage and seek support for our efforts from other international organizations, including the World Bank and the IMF as we have discussed at this Conference. And indeed, the World Trade Organization. Our mission and our objectives are simply too important to the world's economic future to do otherwise.

We applaud our new Director-General and we are encouraged by his report to this conference. Encouraged that we may renew our organization, and make it ever more relevant to the greatest number of people in the world. Those who indeed seek "decent work." Those who seek dignity. Those who seek security. Those who seek hope. Those who seek justice.

And there is no better way to reaffirm the call for dignity, security, hope, and justice, than by rededicating ourselves to our children. We have a rare opportunity to take the struggle for the world's children to a new and higher level of commitment and action. We join together here in the absolute certainty that this is a challenge we can and must meet. As we enter the dawn of the 21st century, we must leave the darkness of abusive child labor behind.

Let us agree that no child should be placed into forced or bonded labor ... brutalized by exploitation in the commercial sex trade ... abducted into militias for armed conflicts ... or subjected to other harmful and dangerous work. Through the new convention that we will adopt this week, we can help make sure that our children are nurtured not neglected -- educated not exploited -- helped not harmed.

In conclusion, Mr. President, let me say that recently I had the opportunity to visit your country. I learned there an old African proverb: When spiders unite they can tie up a lion. The message is clear: there is power in unity. I know that whether it is Africa, or the Americas, or Asia, whether it is workers or employers or governments, what unites is indeed powerful. We are united in our vision of a world of decent work and in our commitment to build a better life, a life of dignity, a life of hope, a life of justice, for all people.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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