top of page

Former South Korea FM Kang throws her hat to lead ILO

By Anjali Sharma and Ahmed Fathi

UNITED NATIONS –South Korean Kang Kyung-wha a former Foreign Minister has declared her candidacy to lead the International Labour Organization, a UN body mandated to advance international labor standards, according to a statement released by the foreign ministry.

She has an extensive international experience and served at the United Nation for many years Kang, a distinguished professor emeritus at Ewha Womans University, submitted her candidacy to the secretariat of the U.N. agency through the Permanent Mission of Republic of South Korea in Geneva, the ministry said. The election is slated for March 2022.

Ms. Kang will be the first Asian and the first woman to become the head the ILO, if elected for this post. Foreign Ministry said "Candidate Kang is considered to have the leadership, quality and competence to lead key ILO agendas, such as job recovery in the post-COVID-19 era, overcoming the economic crisis, and spreading the 'win-win' spirit and solidarity through the trilateralism among labor, management and government.” "She is also expected to make a significant contribution to eradicating discrimination and violence against vulnerable laborers, including women, based on her expertise and experience in efforts to help developing countries and protect women's rights," it said.

Kyung-wha met with the chief of an umbrella labor union and asked for support for her bid to the ILO. Ms. Kang said "I decided to run for the seat because I thought the experiences, career and the international network I have reasonably match the leadership credentials demanded by ILO," during her meeting with Kim Dong-myung, chief of the Federation of Korean Trade Unions. She noted "As I was going for the election campaign, I wanted to have meetings with labor organizations of our nation and ask for their wisdom and advice.”. Kim Dong expressed his organization's support for Kang's election bid and pledged to give all possible help and support. Kang served as South Korea's first female foreign minister from 2017-21. She had worked as a special policy adviser to the current Secretary General Antonio Guterres. She was the U.N. deputy high commissioner for human rights in 2006 and also worked as deputy emergency relief coordinator of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and assistant secretary general for humanitarian affairs. Kang needs a majority vote from ILO's 56-member governing body or else she will have to undergo a runoff vote. She has pledged to help developing countries build their economies and promote dialogue between organized labor, big business and governments.

Her campaign’s platform on the ILO’s website included supporting the restructuring of industries for the climate crisis, promoting tripartite dialogue to aid those efforts, and expanding social security programs to cover platform workers.

Kang also said she would expand technological cooperation projects for developing countries that have been greatly impacted by the pandemic and work to improve the employment situation in participating countries.

Ms. Kang is widely recognized for her advocacy of human rights, humanitarian principles, gender equality and women's empowerment, driven by a strong conviction of the need to stand up for and act on behalf of the people we serve.

She has earned a reputation as a person of principle and a voice of the voiceless.

Ms. Kang has driven the development of the Secretary-General’s gender parity and prevention strategies with passion and expertise, while acting as a role model and mentor to a new generation of women in the UN system

Ms. Kang was Director General of International Organizations at the Republic of Korea’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade.

She served in her country’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations from September 2001 to July 2005, during which time she chaired the Commission on the Status of Women.

Kang joined the Foreign Ministry in 1998. She assisted the Speaker of the National Assembly in parliamentary diplomacy.

She also worked for the Korean Broadcasting System’s news bureau and international radio bureau, and lectured in universities both in her own country and in the United States.

Kang was born in 1955 in Seoul is married and has three children.

She graduated from Yonsei University with a Bachelor of Arts in political science and diplomacy.

Ms. Kang has a Master of Arts in mass communication and a PhD in intercultural communication from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in the United States.

She will compete against at least four candidates: current ILO Deputy Director General Greg Vines of Australia, Food and Agriculture Organization chief Gilbert Houngbo of Togo, former French Labor Minister Muriel Penicaud and Mthunzi Mdwaba of South Africa, vice president of the International Organization of Employers.

Australian Vines is regarded as having the most expertise on labor matters.

ILO has had ten director generals since it was established in 1919. Until the election of Guy Ryder, with his background in British trade unionism, in 2012, most of the ILO’s director generals had been lawyers or staff of UN agencies.

Director-generals are elected to a term of five years, which can be renewed pending review by the board of directors.


bottom of page