Delivering as One, a UN in China conversation presented by Resident Coordinator Siddharth Chatterjee: Episode 11 with Chang-Hee Lee, Director of ILO Country Office for China and Mongolia
A podcast series that brings you the stories behind the representatives of the UN family in China.
In the eleventh episode of the UN in China podcast, UN Resident Coordinator in China Siddharth Chatterjee sits down with Chang-Hee Lee, Director of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Country Office for China and Mongolia.
Dr. Lee, a Republic of Korea (ROK) national, was born in 1964 and raised in a family made to be refugees due to the Korean War. As his family knew no one in the South, they initially relied on the kindness of strangers, before eventually joining the emerging middle class created during the following years of rapid economic growth. While once a self-admitted “ordinary student”, he cites the increased period of political and social upheaval experienced in the ROK during the late 1970s and early 1980s as a key motivator in his later academic performance. He would go on to enroll at Seoul National University, where his interest in social justice and labour movements then propelled him to join the Seoul Social Science Institute, a leading Korean think tank, as a Research Coordinator in 1989.
Dr. Lee notes that as the ROK had only joined the UN as a Member State in 1991, he never thought a job at UN, as it was surreal for him. Also at that time, he was fully immersed in social movement in Korea and never learned to speak English properly, there never seemed to be a way leading to the UN. But the opportunity came, when his Japanese academic advisor recommended him for an ILO job when he was a visiting research fellow at Tokyo University. He joined the UN system in 1996, as a Research Officer for ILO in Geneva.
His work with China began after he moved to Bangkok in 2000 and then moved to China itself in 2006 as an Industrial Relations Specialist for ILO.
The most challenging, exciting and rewarding work he has ever had is with China, he recalls. He extensively travelled in China, helping governments, trade unions and employers in experimenting and spreading new practices of collective bargaining and social dialogue.
He would later take up positions for ILO, again in Geneva and later Hanoi, Viet Nam, before assuming his current role to join the UN family in China in 2021.
“A job, of course, is where people grow, where people earn for their living, so creating full, inclusive, and high-quality employment is a priority,”
In this episode, Dr. Lee highlights ILO's long and storied history, first established in 1919 and later as the first specialized agency of what was a newly formed UN in 1946. He emphasizes the principles of tripartism and social dialogue that underline ILO’s work in setting international labour standards for its Member States, and the importance of cooperation between governments, employers, and workers' organizations in fostering social and economic progress. Following this, he specifically cites ILO’s cooperation in China with the Government, through the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, with workers, through the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, and with employers, through the China Enterprise Confederation.
During the conversation, Dr. Lee discusses ILO’s priorities in China, as set out by its Decent Work Country Programme, namely, to increase the quantity and quality of employment, promote and extend social protection, and strengthen the rule of law and realization of fundamental principles and rights at work. He cites the recent phenomenon of the gig or platform economy in China, as presenting new obstacles in efforts to achieve decent work. On social protection, he raises his concern about rising income inequality, while mentioning ILO’s work with Zhejiang University on a common prosperity pilot project in response to this challenge. On the rule of law and fundamental principles and rights at work, he also expresses support for China’s recent ratification of two ILO Fundamental Conventions on forced labour, while also making mention of ILO’s collaboration with UN Women in China to work toward the prevention of sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
Together with the Resident Coordinator, the two discuss other challenges and opportunities in the years ahead, also in the areas of emerging technologies and South-South and trilateral cooperation, as well as ILO’s work in China to leave no one behind and contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, as part of the UN system in China.
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Dr. Changhee LEE is the Director of ILO Country Office for China and Mongolia from 1 July 2021. Prior to his current appointment, he was the Director of the ILO Country Office for Viet Nam since September 2015.
He joined ILO Headquarters in Geneva in 1996 where he participated in a number of major global research programme on industrial relations. Subsequently he worked as an industrial relations specialist of the ILO’s East Asian team in Bangkok covering South East and North East Asia
(2000-2006) and in Beijing covering China, Mongolia and Viet Nam (2006-2012) During his service in East Asia, he provided policy advices to tripartite industrial relations actors in East Asia on a wide range of industrial relations policy issues.
In 2012, he returned to ILO Headquarters in Geneva and worked as a senior policy analyst of the Policy Integration Department, and a senior labour relations specialist at the Inclusive Labour Markets, Labour Relations and Working Conditions Branch (INWORK). He was also a member of the Task Force for reform of ILO’s field operation, appointed by the Director-General.
Changhee LEE is a citizen of the Republic of Korea. He has a Ph.D of sociology from Seoul National University (1996), and he worked as a research fellow (1993-95) and a visiting professor (2010) at the Institute of Social Sciences, Tokyo University, Japan. He has numerous articles published on industrial relations and human resource management on international academic journals. He co-edited a book “Industrial Relations in Emerging Economies – Quest for Inclusive Development” (Elgar, 2018).
Siddharth Chatterjee took office as the United Nations Resident Coordinator in China on 16 January 2021 and is the designated representative of - and reports to - the UN Secretary-General. He presented his letter of credence to the President of China on 14 April 2021.
Mr. Chatterjee has more than 25 years of experience in international cooperation, sustainable development, humanitarian coordination and peace and security in the United Nations and the Red Cross movement. He has served in many fragile and war-torn countries all over the world.
A 3 times TEDx speaker, he is a regular opinion contributor on humanitarian and development issues for a range of journals which includes Newsweek, Los Angeles Times, Reuters, Huffington Post, Forbes, CNN, Al Jazeera, the Guardian and as of late has also published in mainstream Chinese journals.
Mr. Chatterjee holds a master’s degree in public policy from Princeton University in the United States of America.