25 June 2001


Press Briefing


Of the 36 million people infected with HIV/AIDS, 23 million are in the workplace, the Director General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Juan Somavia,told correspondents this morning during a Headquarters press conference where he introduced the ILO Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS.

Dr. M.A.C. La Grange, Health Adviser of the Chamber of Mines of South Africa, and Juliette D. Lenoir, Assistant Director of the American Federation of Labor/Confederation of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) in Washington, who negotiated the Code, also took part in the press conference, which was being held in the context of the special session of the General Assembly on HIV/AIDS.

Mr. Somavia said the fundamental aim of the Code is to protect workers’ rights in such fields as job security, social security and occupational safety and health.  But it also presented a balanced approach for employers by outlining their responsibilities, and for workers to work together with employers on questions of HIV/AIDS in the workplace.  The pioneering code was the most wide-ranging and comprehensive blueprint for HIV/AIDS in the workplace ever developed, and came with an “in-bred strength of implementation capacity” as it had been negotiated between representatives of workers, employers and governments.  It was not something imposed by one group on others.  The Code was very pragmatic, he said, providing examples of good practices.

Mr. Somavia would present the Code to the Secretary-General this afternoon.  The first place the Code would be implemented would be the ILO itself, he said.  The Code had been negotiated with “lightning speed, taking into account what it takes in the United Nations to get something done”.  It had taken four to five months of preparation and nine days of negotiations.  This speed pointed to the strong commitment of workers, employers and governments to move forward on this difficult issue.

Dr. La Grange, employers’ representative during the negotiations, said the Code was important because it showed the serious commitment of employers, specifically in developing countries such as those of southern Africa, to do something constructive about HIV/AIDS.  The Code provided a “map” for employers for “base practice”.  It mirrored what society at large should implement.  The Code was also important because of the discussion taking place about treatment and support for employees.  The workplace in the developing world frequently had good occupational health-care services, and might be ideally situated to extend those services to the communities.

Ms. Lenoir, workers’ representative during the negotiations, said the Code had been produced speedily -- although negotiators had agreed to forego speed for something that could be relied on in the future, not just the next few years.  As a worker representative from the United States, she said HIV/AIDS not only impacted the workplace and communities in the African continent, but also the workplace and communities in her own country, especially communities of colour.  From a workers’ perspective, the Code made it possible for employers and governments to work together as equals for a single purpose:  to prevent the

spread of HIV/AIDS.  She saw the cooperation that marked the negotiations on the Code as a “transformative opportunity” for all.  If people on different sides of the table could work together to craft a response to HIV/AIDS in its impact on the human family, they could work together in other areas as well.

Correspondents’ questions centred around the issue of enforcement.  “Where are the teeth in this Code?” one correspondent asked.

The Code produced pressure from below, from the communities and the workplace where the problem was happening, Mr. Somavia responded.  It had to do with the nature of social struggle.  Society did not advance because of the policing behind it.  It was not enforcement that had produced democracy in South Africa or Chile.  “We have to organize to make it happen”, he said.  The Code was not a document, it was a plan of action.

Ms. Lenoir said “We are the people, and the governments work for us”.  The Code would be enforced by those who came together to implement it.  The Code was not a law that had to be enforced.  It was about implementation.  Enforcement was the collective interest in seeing implementation.

Ms. Langrange said if labour and employers united on the issue, she could not see how government could not go along to implement it.  She referred to item 2c in the Code, which addressed the issue of enforcement.  It would be considered bad practice for any workplace at this point in time if there were not at least some policy on HIV/AIDS.

Answering a question about which business consortia had signed on to the Code, Mr. Somavia said the Code had been approved by the governing body of the ILO last week.  The employer representatives were organized in the International Organization of Employers, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.  Through the approval in the ILO, the International Organization of Employers had made the Code its own, and had committed itself to promoting it within the organizations that were part of that structure.

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For information media. Not an official record.