International Labour Organization

Acceptance Speech

Acceptance by David A. Morse, Director-general of the ILO, on the occasion of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, December 10, 1969.

Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses, Madam President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

No-one who rises to accept the Nobel Peace Prize either in his individual capacity or, as in my case, on behalf of an organisation, can fail to be profoundly moved, particularly in view of the high quality and great variety of work which has been honoured in this manner over the past sixty-eight years. For the history of the Nobel Peace Prize is in large measure the history of man’s efforts throughout the present century to establish a just and lasting peace. “Fraternity among nations”, the goal which Alfred Nobel so discerningly singled out in his will as an object of special attention, is so difficult of attainment that any recipient must feel, in the words of Woodrow Wilson on this same occasion in 1920, a “very poignant humility before the vastness of the work still called for by this cause”.

The quest for peace has many facets, and the one which is of particular concern to the International Labour Organisation relates to the creation of a foundation of social justice on which lasting peace can be built. I think Ralph Bunche, in his Nobel lecture in 1950, described our task succinctly: “If peace is to be secure, long-suffering and long-forgotten peoples of the world, the under-privileged and the under-nourished, must begin to realise without delay the promise of a new day and a new life”.

To the realisation of this promise the ILO has devoted itself unceasingly during its fifty years of activity. But social justice is no less difficult to attain than the ultimate goal of world peace, of which it is in a sense the reciprocal. Although the social and economic conditions in the industrialised countries during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which gave rise to the creation of the ILO, have been greatly ameliorated since 1919, a whole set of new problems has emerged, problems which are in many ways even more baffling and intractable than those of an earlier era.

Broadly speaking, the economic and social progress in the ILO’s industrialised member States has meant that the most acute problems of the early twentieth century, such as gross exploitation, physical and economic insecurity and child labour, have now to a large extent been understood and begun to be effectively dealt with. The ILO has also been concentrating more and more effectively upon certain essential human rights, including in particular freedom of association, freedom from forced labour and freedom against discrimination in employment. I think it fair to say that great strides have been made in the protection of the worker and the recognition of his rights and status in society.

But with the accession to independence of large numbers of former colonial territories significant new challenges have been encountered. Foremost among these is the need to find ways to combine rapid economic and social development with a system of distribution of the fruits of development which will result in improvement of the standard of living of all the people in the countries concerned, and particularly the most disadvantaged. Fundamentally, that is what the development effort is all about. The key to attaining this goal lies in focusing the attention of the world on the urgent need to improve levels of employment in these regions. There are approximately 300 million people either unemployed or substantially underemployed at present in the developing world, and with the ranks of job-seekers certain to swell enormously in the coming decade as a result of the current population explosion, a problem of truly dramatic proportions has emerged. Unless this problem is effectively dealt with, it will constitute an insurmountable barrier to meaningful development and to peace.

The ILO has therefore launched this year a World Employment Programme. We have appealed to the world at large for help in solving this problem. We have been encouraged by the unanimous political support for the aims of the Programme which we have received from governments, workers’ and employers’ organisations, as well as from organisations in the international community. Our message has been heard and understood. We are therefore confident that efforts to eliminate poverty through employment creation will be given a central position among the fundamental objectives of the United Nations system during the Second Development Decade, which is expected to begin in 1970. In this programme, as in all other areas of ILO action, the continuing vitality of the tripartite principle which makes the ILO unique among international organisations, has been felt and clearly demonstrated. This tri-partism is reflected on this occasion by the fact that I am accompanied here today by the Officers of the ILO Governing Body, the Chairman, H. E. Ambassador Hector Gros Espiell, and Mr. Gullmar Bergenstr√∂m and Mr. Jean Mori, the Employer and Worker Vice-Chairmen of the Governing Body.

What we in the ILO seek to achieve through all our programmes is the elimination of poverty, hardship and privation which weigh so heavily upon the dispossessed peoples of this earth. Our Organisation is central to the international effort to raise their standards of living, to improve their living and working conditions, and to secure to them fundamental human rights, to the end that they may take their place in society as free, dignified and self-governing people. To the extent that our efforts, and those of governments and members of the international community, are successful in achieving these ends, the basis will be laid for a stable and durable system of world peace. But in making this statement we have no illusions about the difficulties which stand in our way.

Though this is our fiftieth year as an organisation we are only at the beginning of our task. We have learned in these years that despite all the results achieved in the material and social fields men continue to be dissatisfied because they have found no satisfactory answers to their moral and spiritual needs. Our Constitution itself places upon the ILO responsibility for ensuring that conditions are created in which human beings can pursue “both their material well-being and their spiritual development”. I believe that our response to this fundamental mandate must be greater in the future. That is what the social dimension of the ILO’s greater objective means. Despite all that we and others have done in the past there still remains for society as a whole the problem of helping mankind achieve a better balance in mental, spiritual, physical and economic well-being.

The achievement of our objectives has become more difficult with rapid technological advance and the inability of man and society to adapt quickly enough to this advance. What has happened in our contemporary period is that we have come to worship technological progress, but are horrified by the growing dimension of poverty in the world; that we are impressed by what science has devised, but are concerned at society’s inability to find the means of applying its benefits fairly and equitably, both within and between nations, for the general wellbeing of the ordinary man; that we are appalled and shocked at the magnitude of the sums invested for weapons of war and mass destruction and at how inadequate are the amounts provided for the economic, social and spiritual needs of man. The fear, anger and frustration which are caused by these frightening contradictions confront mankind with a vast and growing social and political danger. The efforts of the ILO, of the entire United Nations system, and of each and every one of us, must more than ever before be committed to the reduction and ultimate elimination of this danger. We must re-equip ourselves with the necessary means and understanding to meet these enormous new challenges to man’s ability to make and keep the peace.

On behalf of all our constituents, governments as well as employers and workers of our 121 member States, on behalf of all my staff, and in tribute to all those who in the past have faithfully served our Organisation, I should like to express our profound gratitude to the Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Storting for having singled out the International Labour Organisation to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. This award will give us renewed strength to carry forward our work. It will be a continuing inspiration to us in all of our efforts, in the years to come, to help to construct a more just society in a world of peace.

From Les Prix Nobel en 1969, Editor Wilhelm Odelberg, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1970

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1969

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