Juan Somavia "was elected to serve as the ninth Director-General of the ILO by the Governing Body on 23 March 1998. 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, Mr. Somavia was re-elected for a second five-year term.
"An attorney by profession, Mr. Somavia 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 for women and men throughout the world. The following is a list of the many positions he held in the United Nations and other inter-governmental organizations before joining the ILO:
- 1990-99: Permanent Representative of Chile to the United Nations in New York;
- 1993-94, 1998-99: President of the United Nations Economic and Social Council;
- 1996-97: Representative of Chile on the United Nations Security Council, 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;
- 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; 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.
"Since taking office in 1999, Mr. Somavia 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.
"Mr. Somavia 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 for Social 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.
"Mr. Somavia has always shown a strong interest in development cooperation and economic and social affairs. During the late 1960s, while working in GATT, he promoted the participation of developing countries in the Kennedy Round. From 1970-73, Mr. Somavia 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.
"Mr. Somavia 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.
"Mr. Somavia 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, Interpress Service (1976-82) based in Rome. Together with Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel Prize winner, Mr. Somavia represented Latin America as a Member of the MacBride Commission on International Communications (1980-82). Finally, he has served as Chairman of the United Nations Committee of Paliamentarians for Global Action.
"Born on 21 April 1941, Mr. Somavia'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. Mr. Somavia was made Laurea Honoris Causa in political sciences by the University of Turin in November 2001 and awarded a Doctorate Honoris Causa by the University of Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne in May 2003.