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The International Labour Organization (ILO)



The ILO is the only major organization originally part of the League of Nations system that has existed from the founding of the League in 1919 down to the present day. Its name is actually too narrow, for it is an organization neither of nor for labor alone. As the late James T. Shotwell, president emeritus of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, pointed out long ago, the ILO might more accurately have been termed an International Organization for Social Justice. Furthermore, as the organization's responsibilities have widened, it has given increasing attention to measures designed to help raise general standards of living. Its work now even includes activities such as productivity training courses for management personnel and high government. Michel Hansenne, Director General of the ILO from 1989 to 1999, said, "Employmentthe best possible employment for allhas always been, and will remain, the principal objective of our Organization, whose mission is to link economic growth, social justice and the creation and distribution of wealth."


The International Labour Organization (ILO) was created by the 1919 Peace Conference that followed World War I. Its original constitution, which formed part of the Treaty of Versailles, established it on 11 April 1919 as an autonomous organization associated with the League of Nations.

A statement made in the constitution's preamble"Conditions of labor exist involving such injustice, hardship, and privation to large numbers of people as to produce unrest so great that the peace and harmony of the world are imperilled"was not mere rhetoric. World War I had shaken many countries to their foundations. The revolution in Russia had succeeded. All over the world there was labor unrest, and the conviction of the need to improve the lot of working people was by no means limited to labor itself. Organized labor, however, had been especially active during the war in demanding that the peace treaty include recognition of the rights of labor and that labor be given a voice in international matters. The American Federation of Labor (AFL) and other powerful trade-union bodies demanded in particular an international organization of labor that would wield "tremendous authority."

At the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, the president of the AFL, Samuel Gompers, was chairman of the conference's Commission on Labor Legislation. The Peace Conference, instead of establishing an international organization of labor, created an organization in which labor, employers, and governments were to be represented on an equal footing. As so constituted, the ILO was, and still is, unique among international governmental organizationsthe only one in which private citizens, namely representatives of labor and of employers, have the same voting and other rights as are possessed by governments.

The ILO's principal function was to establish international labor and social standards through the draft ing and adoption of international labor conventions. Prior to the existence of the ILO, only two international labor conventions had been adopted: one, designed to protect the health of workers in match factories, prohibited the use of white phosphorus, a poison, in the manufacture of matches; the other prescribed modest restrictions on night work by women. Neither of these was widely ratified. By contrast, more than 182 international labor conventions and 190 recommendations have been adopted by the ILO since 1919. International labor standards are used as a benchmark by which the rights and conditions of human beings have been measured.


The aims and objectives of the ILO were set forth in the preamble to its constitution, drawn up in 1919. The preamble declares that "universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice." Hence, the basic objective of the organization is to help improve social conditions throughout the world. The following examples of concrete measures "urgently required" are specifically mentioned in the preamble: regulation of the hours of work, including the establishment of a maximum working day and week; regulation of the labor supply; prevention of unemployment; provision of an adequate living wage; protection of the worker against sickness, disease, and injury arising out of his or her employment; protection of children, young persons, and women; provision for old age and injury; protection of the interests of workers when employed in countries other than their own; recognition of the principle of equal remuneration for work of equal value; and recognition of the principle of freedom of association.

International action in these matters is required, the preamble makes clear, because "the failure of any nation to adopt humane conditions of labor is an obstacle in the way of other nations which desire to improve the conditions in their own countries." Finally, in agreeing to the ILO constitution, the member governments declare in the preamble that they are "moved by sentiments of justice and humanity as well as by the desire to secure the permanent peace of the world."

Meeting in Philadelphia in 1944, the International Labour Conference adopted a declaration that rephrased and broadened the "aims and purposes" of the ILO and "the principles which should inspire the policy of its members." President Roosevelt stated that the Declaration of Philadelphia, as it was called, summed up the aspirations of an epoch that had known two world wars and that it might well acquire a historical significance comparable to that of the US Declaration of Independence. The declaration, which was incorporated into the amended constitution of the ILO, affirms that labor is not a commodity; that freedom of expression and association are essential to sustained progress; that poverty anywhere constitutes a danger to prosperity everywhere; and that the war against want must be carried on not only with unrelenting vigor within each nation but also by "continuous and concerted international effort in which the representatives of workers and employers, enjoying equal status with those of Governments, join with them in free discussion and democratic decision with a view to the promotion of the common welfare."

The Declaration of Philadelphia recognizes the "solemn obligation" of the ILO to further among nations of the world programs that will achieve the following:

  • full employment and the raising of standards of living;
  • employment of workers in the occupations for which they are best suited and where they can make their greatest contribution to the common well-being;
  • facilities for training and the transfer of labor, including migration for employment and settlement;
  • policies in regard to wages and earnings, hours, and other conditions of work calculated to ensure a just share of the fruits of progress to all and a minimum living wage to all employed and in need of such protection;
  • effective recognition of the right of collective bargaining, the cooperation of management and labor in the continuous improvement of productive efficiency, and the collaboration of workers and employers in the preparation and application of social and economic measures;
  • extension of social security measures to provide a basic income to all in need of such protection and comprehensive medical care;
  • adequate protection for the life and health of workers in all occupations;
  • child welfare and maternity protection;
  • adequate nutrition, housing, and facilities for recreation and culture; and
  • assurance of equality of educational and vocational opportunity.

Since 1994 the ILO has been involved in a process of modernizing and strengthening its labor standards system.


Originally, ILO membership was identical with League of Nations membership, since adherence to the League carried with it participation in the ILO. However, several countries that were not members of the League were admitted to the ILO, notably the United States, which joined in 1934. In 1946, the ILO became the first specialized agency associated with the UN. The constitution of the ILO now provides that any nation that is a member of the UN can become a member of the ILO by unilaterally notifying the Director General that it accepts the obligations of the ILO constitution. Other nations may be admitted to ILO membership by a two-thirds vote of the International Labour Conference.

The ILO constitution originally made no provision for the expulsion of a member. However, two amendments adopted by the International Labour Conference in 1964 would have empowered the ILO membership, by a two-thirds vote, to expel or suspend any member that had been expelled or suspended by the UN or that had been found by the UN to be flagrantly and persistently pursuing by its legislation a policy of racial discrimination. The amendments were adopted in response to South Africa's policy of apartheid. These amendments never came into force for lack of ratifications. However, in 1972, the conference adopted another Instrument of Amendment about expulsions, which came into force on 1 November 1974.

A state may withdraw from the ILO by formal notification of its intent to do so, such withdrawal to be effective two years after the ILO receives the notification. Germany, one of the original members, withdrew in 1935. South Africa notified the organization of its intent to withdraw before the amendments that could have led to its expulsion were adopted. Its withdrawal became effective on 11 March 1966. South Africa rejoined the ILO on 26 May 1994. Albania withdrew in 1967. Vietnam withdrew in 1985, but rejoined in 1992. Fourteen other countries withdrew their membership at various times (11 of them during the World War II period), but all sooner or later rejoined the organization. The rules that govern original admission to membership also apply to readmission.

In November 1975, the United States filed a two-year notice of intent to withdraw, stating at the same time that it did not desire or expect to leave the ILO but hoped to help the ILO "return to basic principles." US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said that the ILO had been "falling back" in four fundamental areas: workers' and employers' groups in the ILO falling under the domination of governments; an "appallingly selective" concern for human rights; "disregard of due process" in condemning member states "which happen to be the political target of the moment"; and "increasing politicization of the organization." The notice of intent to withdraw was allowed to run its course, thereby ending US membership in the ILO in November 1977. On the return of the United States to membership in February 1980, President Jimmy Carter said: "As a member of the ILO and with the support of other countries, the United States will seek to ensure that the ILO continues to serve the interests of the world's working men and women by promoting more and better jobs while protecting human rights and dignity." As of 10 November 2005, the ILO had 178 members.


The principal organs of the ILO are the International Labour Conference, the Governing Body, and the International Labour Office, headed by a Director General.

International Labour Conference

The International Labour Conference is the organization's policy-making and legislative body, in which every member state is represented. It holds one session a year at ILO headquarters in Geneva.

Each member country sends to the International Labour Conference a national delegation consisting of four delegates. Two represent the government, one represents the country's employers, and one represents the country's workers. Alternates and advisers may be sent as well. Each delegate has one independent vote. Discussing this system of tripartite representation in 1959, the Director General noted that the ILO is "the only intergovernmental agency in whose work nongovernment delegates take part on an equal footing with government representatives as a matter of constitutional right. Representatives of employers' and workers' organizations are included in its policy-making, standard-setting, and executive machinery and participate, with full voting rights, in all these aspects of its work."

The government, employers', and workers' representatives to the conference act in many respects as three separate groups, functioning somewhat as political parties function in a national legislature: the three groups meet separately for informal discussions of strategy; they hold caucuses; and, voting separately, they elect the government, the employers', and the workers' delegates to the Governing Body and to tripartite committees. If the tripartite system is to function as intended, it is essential that employers' and workers' delegates be true representatives of their respective groups. The ILO constitution provides that governments must appoint these delegates in agreement with the "most representative" organizations of employers or workers "if such organizations exist."

Governing Body

The Governing Body is the executive council of the ILO. It is composed of 56 titular members (14 representing employers, 14 representing workers, and 28 representing governments) and 66 deputy members (19 representing employers, 19 representing workers, and 28 representing governments).

Members of the Governing Body are elected by the corresponding groups in the International Labour Conference, except that 10 of the government representatives are appointed by countries that do not participate in the election of the other government representatives since these 10 countries are entitled to permanent seats as "states of chief industrial importance." The 10 governments permanently represented on the Governing Body are Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. The remaining government members, elected for three years by the 2005 conference were from Argentina, Australia, Belarus, Cameroon, Canada, Cuba, El Salvador, Kenya, Malawi, Morocco, Nigeria, Peru, Philippines, Romania, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, and Sri Lanka..

The 14 employers' representatives on the governing body, elected for three years by the 2005 conference, included leading industrialists from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, France, Germany, Japan, Mauritius, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Tunisia, United Kingdom, and United States.

The 14 members of the workers' group, elected in 2005 for three years, were ranking trade union officials from Algeria, Australia, Barbados, Canada, Colombia, Germany, Guinea, India, Japan, Nigeria, Russian Federation, Sweden, United Kingdom, and United States.

Under amendments to the ILO constitution adopted by the International Labour Conference in 1986to become effective when ratified or accepted by two-thirds of the members, including 5 of the 10 permanent members of the Governing Bodythe members of the Governing Body will be increased to 112 (56 representing governments, 28 representing employers, and 28 representing workers) and the 10 permanent seats will be eliminated. As of 2006, this amendment had not yet entered into force.

Meeting several times a year, the Governing Body coordinates and in many ways shapes the work of the organization. It draws up the agenda for each session of the International Labour Conference; while the conference is empowered to change this agenda, it rarely does. The Governing Body appoints the Director-General of the International Labour Office. It examines the proposed budget submitted to it each year by the Director-General and approves it for adoption by the conference. The Governing Body also is responsible for convening the scores of other conference and committee meetings held under ILO auspices every year in various parts of the world and decides what action ought to be taken on their resolutions and reports.

International Labour Office and Director-General

The International Labour Office in Geneva, headed by the Director-General, is the ILO's headquarters and its permanent secretariat. As of 2000, its staff consisted of about 1,900 persons from more than 110 countries in Geneva and in 40 field offices.

During World War II, when for a time Switzerland was entirely surrounded by Axis forces, the International Labour Office and a skeleton staff were temporarily moved to Montreal, where, thanks to the hospitality of the Canadian government and McGill University, the office was able to continue its more urgent work.

The International Labour Office services the sessions of the conference, the Governing Body, and the various subsidiary organs and committees. It prepares the documents for these meetings; publishes periodicals, studies, and reports; and collects and distributes information on all subjects within the ILO's competence. As directed by the conference and the Governing Body, it carries out ILO operational programs that have been decided on in various fields.

The ILO has had nine Directors GeneralAlbert Thomas, France, 191932; Harold Butler, United Kingdom, 193238; John G. Winant, United States, 193941; Edward J. Phelan, Ireland, 194148; David A. Morse, United States, 194870; Wilfred Jenks, United Kingdom, 197073; Francis Blanchard, France, 197389; Michel Hansenne, Belgium, 198999; Juan Somavia, Chile, 1999 to present.


Since its early days, the ILO has been troubled by a basic constitutional issue: can the organization, without violating its own principles, countenance the seating of workers' and employers' delegates

Afghanistan Dominica Lebanon Samoa
Albania Dominican Republic Lesotho San Marino
Algeria Ecuador Liberia São T
Angola Egypt Libyan Arab Jamahiriya Saudi Arabia
Antigua and Barbuda El Salvador Lithuania Senegal
Argentina Equatorial Guinea Luxembourg Serbia and Montenegro
Armenia Eritrea The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Seychelles
Australia Estonia Sierra Leone
Austria Ethiopia Madagascar Singapore
Azerbaijan Fiji Malawi Slovakia
Bahamas Finland Malaysia Slovenia
Bahrain France Mali Solomon Islands
Bangladesh Gabon Malta Somalia
Barbados Gambia Mauritania South Africa
Belarus Georgia Mauritius Spain
Belgium Germany Mexico Sri Lanka
Belize Ghana Moldova, Republic of Sudan
Benin Greece Mongolia Suriname
Bolivia Grenada Morocco Swaziland
Bosnia and Herzegovina Guatemala Mozambique Sweden
Botswana Guinea Myanmar Switzerland
Brazil Guinea-Bissau Namibia Syrian Arab Republic
Bulgaria Guyana Nepal Tajikistan
Burkina Faso Haiti Netherlands Tanzania, United Republic of
Burundi Honduras New Zealand Thailand
Cambodia Hungary Nicaragua Timor-Leste
Cameroon Iceland Niger Togo
Canada India Nigeria Trinidad and Tobago
Cape Verde Indonesia Norway Tunisia
Central African Republic Iran, Islamic Republic of Oman Turkey
Chad Iraq Pakistan Turkmenistan
Chile Ireland Panama Uganda
China Israel Papua New Guinea Ukraine
Colombia Italy Paraguay United Arab Emirates
Comoros Jamaica Peru United Kingdom
Congo Japan Philippines United States
Congo, Democratic Republic of the Jordan Poland Uruguay
Costa Rica Kazakhstan Portugal Uzbekistan
Côte d'Ivoire Kenya Qatar Vanuatu
Croatia Kiribati Romania Venezuela
Cuba Korea, Republic of Russian Federation Vietnam
Cyprus Kuwait Rwanda Yemen
Czech Republic Kyrgyzstan St. Kitts and Nevis Zambia
Denmark Lao People's Democratic Republic St. Lucia Zimbabwe
Djibouti Latvia St. Vincent and the Grenadines

from countries where workers' and employers' organizations are not free from domination or control by the government?

Challenges to the Credentials of Workers

When, in the early 1920s, a member of the Italian Fascist labor corporations appeared at Geneva to take his seat as the workers' member of the Italian delegation to the ILO, his credentials were challenged, though unsuccessfully, by the workers' group, which maintained that he was not a true spokesman for Italian labor. Every session of the conference from 1923 to 1938 saw the credentials of one or more workers' delegates challenged on the grounds that these delegates did not represent an independent labor point of view. Among them were workers' delegates from Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. In all cases, however, the delegates were seated.

Since World War II, the conference has on several occasions actually refused to seat a workers' delegate whose credentials had been challenged. In 1945, it refused to seat the workers' delegate chosen by the Perón regime in Argentina on the ground that workers' organizations in Argentina did not at that time enjoy freedom of association, action, or speech. In 1950, it refused to seat the workers' delegate appointed by the government of Venezuela on the ground that the delegate could not have been nominated in agreement with the country's most representative workers' associations since the government had at that time dissolved all trade unions. Challenges to the credentials of Argentinian and Venezuelan workers' delegates on other occasions were overruled by the credentials committee, however, as was a 1955 challenge to the credentials of the Chilean workers' delegate.

The Question of Employers' Delegates from Communist Countries

Much greater difficulties arose in the past over the seating of employers' delegates from former communist countries. When the first employers' delegate from the USSR, Mr. Kaoulin of the People's Commissariat of Water Transport, appeared at the 1936 maritime conference, the employers' group acquiesced in his seating but requested an examination of the constitutional questions involved. A study duly carried out by the International Labour Office concluded that the ILO constitution did not require an employer to be a private person and that in countries where the state was the chief employer, it was for the state to choose the employers' delegate. The employers' group at the conference voted unanimously to reject this interpretation.

At the 1945 International Labour Conference, held in Paris shortly after the end of World War II, two constitutional amendments were proposed that aimed at increasing the size of the national delegations so as to give representation to both the public and private sectors of the economy. Both proposed amendments were, for a variety of reasons, rejected by the conference. The employers' group, however, issued a declaration stating that if the USSR, which had withdrawn from the ILO in 1940, were to resume membership, "it would naturally appoint as employers' delegates a representative of the socialized management of the USSR."

At the 1953 conference, the employers' group challenged the credentials of the Czechoslovakian employers' delegate and, when the USSR did rejoin the organization in 1954, challenged those of the Soviet employers' delegate as well. On both occasions, the group was overruled by the credentials committee, which held that the delegates in question performed executive and managerial functions corresponding to those normally exercised by employers under other economic systems.

When the Governing Board met in November 1954, it was sharply divided on the question of employers' delegates from countries with nationalized economies. In hopes of facilitating a compromise, it appointed a special fact-finding committee, headed by Sir Arnold McNair, former president of the International Court of Justice, to report on the "extent of the freedom of employers' and workers' organizations" in ILO member countries "from government domination or control." The lengthy report, which the committee submitted in February 1956, was based on a study of the situation in 59 countries, including five in the Soviet bloc.

The report recognized at the outset that the unique feature of the ILOcooperation among representatives of government, employers, and workerscould only be meaningful if the latter represented their constituents in the true sense of the word and had the right "to speak and vote freely without government control." On the other hand, the report noted, major changes had occurred in the economic structure of many countries since 1919, with governments participating in their countries' economic and social life in a wide variety of new ways. The ILO had long maintained that the principle of freedom of association is violated if the right to organize is subject to government authorization. However, the report found, the constitutions of no less than 21 ILO countries subjected the right of association to statutory regulation.

The Hungarian uprising of 1956 had sharp repercussions in the ILO, which were reflected in the credentials dispute. The Governing Body expressed solidarity with the Hungarian workers "who were struggling to secure their fundamental rights," and the 1957 International Labour Conference rejected the credentials of the employers' and workers' delegates appointed by the Kádár government, which had, in effect, restored the Hungarian status quo ante. In 1958 and 1959, the conference took the unprecedented step of not only rejecting the credentials of the Hungarian workers' and employers' delegates, but also refusing admission to the government delegates.

In the meantime, various attempts were made to find a general solution to the problem that would satisfy all concerned, including the Western employers' delegates. Involved in the problem was the fact that, under the International Labour Conference rules, each groupgovernment, employers, and workerscould refuse to seat delegates whose credentials it did not accept. In 1959, acting on a plan proposed by a tripartite committee headed by Roberto Ago of Italy, the ILO established a five-member Appeals Board composed of persons of "internationally recognized independence and impartiality" to rule on such matters.

The demise of the Soviet bloc in the late 1980s heralded the arrival of a new era of consensus. Now that so many formerly communist governments no longer adhere to a managed economy, challenges to credentials are much less significant.


The ILO's activities are financed by a biennial budget fixed by the International Labour Conference and raised from the governments of member states according to a scale of contributions approved by the conference. The scale ranges from 0.001% for the least developed countries (LDCs) to 5.45% for the United Kingdom, 6.37% for France, 9.62% for Germany, 19.22% for Japan, and 22% for the United States. In addition, the ILO receives for its technical assistance programs a share of the funds raised from voluntary government contributions to UNDP.

The 2004-05 expenditure budget amounted to us$ 529.6 million, with an income budget for the same amount.


A. International Labor Standards

One of the principal achievements of the ILO has been the formulation of an extensive international labor code through the draft ing and adoption of various standard-setting conventions and recommendations. The first international convention adopted was the 1919 Hours of Work Convention, establishing the eight-hour day and the six-day week in industry.

A convention is similar to an international treaty and is subject to ratification. Recommendations do not require ratification. They serve as guidelines for national policy.

By 2006, the various sessions of the International Labour Conference had built up the edifice of the international labor code through the adoption of 185 conventions and 195 recommendations, covering such questions as the following:

  • employment and unemployment: employment services, national development programs, and provisions for unemployment;
  • various aspects of conditions of work: wages, hours, weekly rest periods, annual holidays with pay, and allied topics;
  • employment of children and young persons: minimum age of admission to employment, medical examination for fitness for employment, vocational training and apprenticeship, and night work;
  • employment of women: maternity protection, night work, and employment in unhealthy work;
  • industrial health, safety, and welfare;
  • social security;
  • industrial (i.e., management-labor) relations;
  • labor inspection;
  • social policy in nonmetropolitan areas and concerning indigenous and tribal populations;
  • protection of migrants; and
  • trade unionism and collective bargaining.

At first, the effort to build up minimum labor and social standards that would be internationally valid was considered by many as utopian. In these fields, international action used to be virtually unknown. But the freely accepted conventions and recommendations and the ILO machinery of mutual supervision have helped to improve working conditions and managementlabor relations, protect the fundamental rights of labor, promote social security, and lessen the frequency and intensity of labor conflicts.

The international labor code is continually being revised and extended, not only to broaden its scope but also to keep pace with advancing concepts of social and economic welfare. The following conventions represent the heart and soul of the organization's commitment to its mandate to social justice:

number name
No. 29 Forced Labor Convention (1930)
No. 87 Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize (1948)
No. 98 Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention (1949)
No. 100 Equal Remuneration Convention (1951)
No. 105 Abolition of Forced Labor Convention (1957)
No. 111 Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention (1958)
No. 122 Employment Policy Convention (1964)
No. 135 Workers' Representatives Convention (1971)
No. 141 Rural Workers' Organizations Convention (1978)
No. 144 Tripartite Consultation (International Labor Standards) Convention (1976)
No. 151 Labor Relations (Public Service) (1978)
No. 155 Occupational Safety and Health Convention (1981)
No. 169 Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (1989)
No. 174 Prevention of Major Industrial Accidents Convention (1993)
No. 182 Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention (1999)
No. 184 Safety and Health in Agriculture Convention (2001)

Other important conventions are, for example, the 1960 convention and a recommendation on the protection of workers against ionizing radiations. These instruments, in essence, provide for the establishment of maximum permissible doses and amounts of radioactive substances that may be taken into the body. Appropriate radiation levels are fixed for workers over 16. Under these international instruments, workers under 16 are prohibited from working in direct contact with ionizing radiations.

In pursuit of ILO efforts to help extend the scope of social security coverage throughout the world and eliminate discrimination based upon nationality, the 1962 International Labour Conference adopted a convention on the equal treatment of nationals and non-nationals in social security. Under this convention, a ratifying country shall give to nationals of other ratifying countries, within its territory, equal treatment with its own nationals under its social security legislation. Countries may accept the obligations of the convention in any or all of the following types of social security: medical care, sickness benefits, maternity benefits, unemployment benefits, and family allowances.

The adoption of protective standard measures against occupationally caused cancer was taken up at the 1974 session of the International Labour Conference. Two international agreements were drawn up, aimed at limiting the use and the adverse effects of carcinogenic (cancer-causing) substances and strengthening protective measures to be used against them.

In 1983, a convention was adopted on the rights of handicapped people, aimed at increasing employment opportunities for the disabled. In 1986, a convention to protect workers against serious risks from the use of asbestos was adopted.

The following recommendations are representative of the ILO's work during the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century.

No. 175 Safety and Health in Construction Recommendation (1988)
No. 176 Employment Promotion and Protection against Unemployment Recommendation (1988)
No. 177 Chemicals Recommendation (1990)
No. 178 Night Work Recommendation (1990)
No. 179 Working Conditions in Hotels, Restaurants and Similar Establishments (1991)
No. 180 Protection of Workers' Claims in the Event of the Insolvency of Their Employer (1992)
No. 181 Prevention of Major Industrial Accidents (1993)
No. 184 Home Work Recommendation (1996)
No. 188 Private Employment Agencies Recommendation (1997)
No. 191 Maternity Protection Recommendation (2000)
No. 195 Human Resources Development Recommendation (2004)

For a complete listing of ILO conventions, visit their Internet site Recommendations are also listed at the site.

B. Obligation of Members after Adoption of International Labor Standards

The ILO, it should be borne in mind, is not a world lawgiver. The International Labour Conference cannot pass legislation that by itself is binding on any country. However, ingenious arrangements have been written into the ILO constitution to make sure that conventions and recommendations adopted by the International Labour Conference are not regarded as mere pious pronouncements. Member governments must report back to the ILO on the measures they have taken to bring the ILO convention or recommendation before their competent legislative authorities, and they must also keep the ILO informed of decisions made by those authorities.

Supervision of Application of Ratifi ed Conventions

Once a convention has been ratified and has come into force, every country that ratified it is obligated to take all necessary measures to make its provisions effective.

By ratifying a convention, a country automatically agrees to report every year to the International Labour Office on how the convention is being applied in its territory. These reports are much more than a formality. For each convention, the Governing Body formulates a number of questions that include requests for information on the results of labor inspection, relevant court decisions, and statistics on the number of persons covered. Copies of each annual report prepared by a government are to be sent to the country's most representative employers' and workers' organizations, and the report, as finally submitted to the ILO, has to state whether the government has received any comments from them on the practical implementation of the convention in question.

These annual reports on the application of ratified conventions are first considered by a committee of independent experts and then by an employer-worker-government committee, which in turn reports to the full International Labour Conference. The object of this whole system of supervision is to enable the conference to determine what progress has been made in implementing the standards set forth in the conventions. On the basis of the intelligence it receives, the conference may, if it feels this to be necessary, make "observations" to governments, that is, suggest to them ways in which they may overcome discrepancies between the provisions of the conventions that they have ratified and existing national laws or practices.

The effectiveness of this supervisory machinery depends, naturally, on the cooperation of member governments in submitting their annual reports. On the whole, an increasing number of governments have been living up to their obligations in this respect. If required reports are not forthcoming or if the reports submitted by certain countries are not really informative, the ILO supervisory committees express their dissatisfaction in polite but quite unmistakable terms. These criticisms are included in the printed reports of the committees and may occasion debates in the conference itself, thus giving the matter further publicity.

The ILO constitution provides two other procedures that may be followed to induce governments to carry out the provisions of conventions that they have ratified. First, workers' or employers' organizations may make representations to the International Labour Office if they believe that any government, even their own, has failed to live up to a convention that it has ratified. If the government concerned fails to provide a satisfactory answer to the allegation, the Governing Body may decide to publish the allegation and, if one has been submitted, the government reply. Second, any ILO member government may file a complaint against any other member for alleged noncompliance with a ratified convention. The ILO constitution provides that, in this event, a commission of inquiry shall examine the matter, report on its findings, and recommend such remedial steps as it thinks proper. The fact that the ILO constitution provides for specific machinery to take up such complaints itself has contributed to the observance of ratified international labor conventions on the part of member governments.

In his report to the 81st ILC in 1994, Director-General Michel Hansenne reported that in the preceding 30 years, close to 2,000 cases of progress were recorded by supervisory bodies. "Th at means 2,000 situations in which national legislation and policy have been brought into line with the requirements of ratified Conventions," said the Director-General.

Reports on Recommendations and Unratifi ed Conventions

Recommendations adopted by the International Labour Conference, unlike the conventions that it adopts, are not international treaties and are not subject to ratification. Hence, these recommendations can never be binding on a member government in the sense that the provisions of a ratified convention are binding. Nevertheless, the recommendations constitute an important part of the international labor code, and, since 1948, the Governing Body of the ILO has had the right to ask member governments periodically to what extent they have given or intend to give effect to conventions not ratified and to recommendations. In such case, the governments also have to state the reasons that have so far prevented or delayed the ratification of conventions and the modification of national law and practices according to recommendations.

Ratifi cations

The number of ratifications that a given convention has received is not, in itself, an accurate measure of its acceptance or impact. The fact that a convention has not been ratified by a particular country does not necessarily mean that that country has not met the standards prescribed in the convention. The United Kingdom, for example, advised the ILO that it did not intend to propose parliamentary ratification of the convention requiring a minimum 24-hour weekly rest period for commercial and office workers. It explained that such workers in the United Kingdom were already assured a rest period of at least that length through established custom and that it was not the policy of the government to intervene in matters that had already been satisfactorily settled by the parties concerned.

New Zealand, which in many ways has pioneered in labor legislation, waited until 1938 to ratify the eight-hour-day, six-day-week convention of 1919. At the same time, New Zealand also ratified the more restrictive 40-hour-week convention of 1935 and, in fact, remained for 18 years the only country ratifying it. Ratifications may be withheld for various reasons by a country for a number of years, after which a number of ratifications may be approved at once. Thus, in 1962 alone, Peru ratified 31 different international labor conventions.

Very often, countries do not ratify conventions on subjects that they feel do not concern them. The various maritime conventions, for example, are primarily of interest to nations with sizable merchant marine fleets. Occasionally, however, countries as a matter of principle ratify conventions on conditions quite alien to them. Thus, Switzerland ratified the 1957 Convention on the Abolition of Forced Labor on the recommendation of the Swiss Federal Council, which called for ratification because of the convention's humanitarian significance, although "forced labor in any of the forms mentioned in the Convention has never existed in Switzerland."

For a growing number of workers in an increasing number of countries, wages, working conditions, vacations, and so-called fringe benefits are being determined not through government legislation but through collective bargaining. The international standards embodied in the ILO's conventions, even though they may not show on the statute books, frequently serve as guides for labor-management agreements. The widening impact of ILO standards owes much to the various arrangements that have been worked out to make the provisions of the international labor code more widely known to employers' and workers' organizations.

The significance of the sharply increased rate at which governments have been ratifying ILO conventions since 1960 is very great. Ratification, particularly in a developing country, regularly signifies a step forward.

C. The ILO as a Promoter of Human Rights

Freedom of Association

World War II stimulated the growth of trade unions and increased their responsibilities. In many countries, labor was recognized as an equal partner in the effort that won the war. Nevertheless, in various parts of the world, the position of unions was far from secure, and in many countries, such a basic freedom as the worker's right to join a union of his choice was respected neither in law nor in practice.

In 1948, the International Labour Conference adopted the Convention on Freedom of Association and the Right to Organize, and in 1949, it adopted the Convention on the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining. These conventions stipulate that all workers and employers shall possess the right to establish and join organizations of their own choosing without having to obtain government authorization. Such organizations shall have the right to function freely and without interference from public authorities; they may be dissolved or suspended only by normal judicial procedure and never by administrative authority. Workers must be protected against discrimination on the grounds of union membership or activities; thus, a worker may not be discharged because he joins or is active in a union. Employers and workers must not interfere in the establishment or operation of one another's organizations; this provision outlaws such devices as employer-dominated unions. By 2 May 2006, the first of the two conventions had been ratified by 145 countries and the second by 154.

The ILO Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA) has recorded a dramatic rise in the numbers of complaints lodged under this convention: before 1990 a total of 61 complaints were received; 49 complaints were received in 1990 alone. In total, the CFA handles hundreds of cases each year. Cases are received even when the government concerned has not ratified the ILO's freedom of association convention.

The ILO has been particularly concerned with safeguarding the rights enumerated in these two conventions. It has made full use of its regular procedure to ascertain whether all member states have presented the conventions to the appropriate domestic authorities for ratification and to supervise the implementation of the conventions by states that have ratified them. In addition, the International Labour Conference has conducted reviews concerning the extent to which member states, whether bound by the conventions or not, have put their provisions into effect.

In 1969, a special review was made, in connection with the 50th anniversary of the ILO, of the problems and prospects of ratification of 17 key conventions. Special bodies were set up to deal with complaints against governments for violation of trade-union rights: a committee of the Governing Body, known as the Committee on Freedom of Association, composed of government, employer, and worker representatives; and the quasi-judicial Fact-Finding and Conciliation Commission, composed of nine independent persons serving as individuals. The Fact-Finding and Conciliation Commission is authorized to make on-the-scene investigations, but it cannot consider a case unless the government concerned gives its consent. Japan, in 1964, was the first to do so; Greece was the second, in 1965. The government-employer-worker Committee on Freedom of Association, however, not being a semi-judicial body, may consider complaints whether or not the government concerned gives its consent.

Feeling that fuller factual information was needed about conditions in various countries affecting freedom of association, the ILO Governing Body decided in 1958 to inaugurate a worldwide survey to be carried out through on-the-spot studies. The first country to invite such a survey was the United States; the second was the USSR. An ILO survey mission visited both countries in 1959. At the invitation of the governments of Sweden, the United Kingdom, Burma, and Malaya, surveys on freedom of association in those countries were made in 1960 and 1961.

The Committee on Freedom of Association considered complaints of infringements of trade union rights in Poland following the proclamation of martial law in that country in December 1981 and in response to measures taken against the Solidarity trade union. In November 1982, the Governing Body urged the Polish government to lift martial law; it noted with deep concern that the government had dissolved all existing trade unions, including Solidarity, and deplored the fact that fundamental provisions of the new Polish labor law did not conform with ILO principles of freedom of association and collective bargaining. A commission of inquiry set up by the ILO in 1983 reported in the following year that Poland had infringed trade union rights laid down in two ILO conventions to which it was a party, and it rejected Poland's objection to its inquiry.

Forced Labor

Before World War II, ILO's efforts in regard to forced labor, including the adoption of the 1930 Convention on Forced Labor and the 1936 Convention on Recruiting of Indigenous Workers, were directed primarily toward stamping out abuses in non-self-governing territories. A convention adopted in 1939 prescribed that contracts for the employment of indigenous labor must always be made in writing, and an accompanying recommendation called for regulation of the maximum period of time for which an indigenous worker could bind himself under contract. Another convention adopted in 1939 required all penal sanctions exacted against indigenous labor for breach of contract to be progressively abolished "as soon as possible"; when applicable to juvenile workers, the sanctions against breach of contract were to be abolished without delay.

After World War II, emphasis shift ed from protection against exploitation in colonial areas to the abolition of systems of forced labor wherever they occur, as part of the promotion of human rights. The first step in this broader attack was an impartial inquiry into the nature and extent of forced labor, including prison labor, gang labor, labor service, and the like. A joint UNILO committee studied the existence in the world of systems of forced or "corrective" labor as a means of political coercion or as punishment for political views. In 1953, the committee reported that it had found two principal forms of forced labor existing in fully self-governing countries: one used mainly as a means of political coercion or political punishment, and the other used mainly for economic reasons.

In 1957, the International Labour Conference, by a vote of 240 to 0, with 1 abstention, adopted the Convention on the Abolition of Forced Labor. The convention outlaws any form of forced or compulsory labor (a) as a means of political coercion or education or as punishment for political or ideological views, (b) as a means of obtaining labor for economic development, (c) as a means of labor discipline, (d) as punishment for participation in strikes, or (e) as a means of racial, social, national, or religious discrimination. The convention, one of the farthest-reaching adopted by the ILO, has been in force since 17 January 1959.

Discrimination in Employment and Occupation

The Convention on Discrimination in Employment and Occupation, adopted by the International Labour Conference in 1958, constitutes another effort to promote the principle of equal rights. The convention defines such discrimination as any distinction, exclusion, or preference based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction, or social origin that impairs equal access to vocational training, equal access to employment and to certain occupations, or equal terms and conditions of employment. Measures affecting a person justifiably suspected of being engaged in activities prejudicial to the security of the state are not to be deemed discrimination, provided such a person is guaranteed the right of appeal. Furthermore, special measures of protection or assistance required because of sex, age, disablement, family responsibility, or social or cultural status are not to be considered discriminatory, but workers' and employers' organizations must in certain cases be consulted on such measures.

Every state ratifying the convention thereby undertakes to declare and pursue a national policy designed to promote, by methods appropriate to national conditions and practice, equality of opportunity and treatment in respect of employment and occupation, with a view to eliminating discrimination. This goal is to be accomplished through cooperation with employers' and workers' organizations, through legislation, and through educational programs. Ratifying states also agree to pursue nondiscriminatory public employment policies and to ensure the observance of such policies by public vocational guidance, training, and placement services.

D. Maritime Questions

The problems of merchant sailors differ in many respects from those of other workers. When plans for an international labor organization were being worked out in 1919, world seafarers' organizations urged the creation of a separate "permanent general conference for the international regulation of maritime labor" and of a separate "supervisory office for maritime labor." Although it was eventually decided to include maritime questions as falling within the purview of the ILO, special ILO machinery was established to deal with them, including special maritime sessions of the International Labour Conference and a Joint Maritime Commission.

Maritime sessions of the International Labour Conference are periodic full-scale sessions of the conference devoted exclusively to maritime questions. The first such conference was held in 1920. Since then, some 50 conventions and recommendations concerning seafarers have been adopted, pertaining to conditions of employment, health and safety, welfare, and social security. Together, these conventions and recommendations form the International Seafarers' Code, which is binding on all subscribing countries.

The Joint Maritime Commission keeps questions regarding the merchant marine under review on a year-to-year basis. Since it began its work in 1920, the commission has been enlarged several times, mainly to provide wider geographical representation.

Conditions of Employment

The first of the ILO's maritime conventions, adopted in 1920, forbids the employment of children under 14 at sea, except on family-operated vessels. A convention adopted in 1936 raises the minimum age to 15. A convention adopted in 1926 prescribes the standard form and content of seafarers' articles of agreement or employment contracts, signing procedures, and the conditions under which such contracts may be terminated.

At the 1987 maritime session of the International Labour Conference, a number of conventions and recommendations were adopted, some of which revised and updated earlier instruments. A 1926 convention guaranteeing repatriation of seafarers was broadened to take into account developments in the shipping industry. The new instrument lists the circumstances under which repatriation rights shall apply, including cessation of employment, illness, shipwreck, and bankruptcy of the shipowner. Another revision of previous instruments was adopted on seafarers' welfare at sea and in port. States ratifying it will undertake to ensure that cultural and recreational facilities and information services are provided in appropriate ports and on board ship. A convention on health protection and medical care aims at providing seafarers with care comparable to that which is generally available to workers ashore.

Social Security for Seafarers

The first step toward social insurance for seafarers was taken by a 1920 convention which required a shipowner to pay two months' wages to crew members of a lost or foundered vessel.

Three conventions affecting seafarers were adopted at the 1976 maritime session: continuity of employment, annual leave with pay, and merchant shipping (minimum standards). The third convention provides that a state which has ratified the convention and in whose port a ship calls may take account of a complaint or evidence that the ship does not conform to the standards of the convention.

A new convention adopted in 1987 revised a number of existing instruments dealing with social security and insurance against illness; it requires ratifying states to provide seafarers with social security protection not less favorable than that enjoyed by shore workers for which the state has legislation in force. Member states would be bound to apply either minimum standards, as specified in the Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention, or superior standards, as laid down in other ILO instruments.

The standards set by these conventions, even when not ratified by many countries, have an influence on collective agreements, national statutes, and regulations.

E. Technical Cooperation

Member states have always been able to count on the direct cooperation of the ILO. The expression "technical assistance" is to be found in an ILO report as early as 1930. ILO officials who were then sent on consultative missions to governments were the precursors of today's experts.

Depending on priority programs established by governments, the activities of consultants have become an increasingly integral feature of national development plans. Among these priorities are the development of human resources, the raising of living standards, and the promotion of full employment. The ILO works actively with the authorities to set up and put into effect concrete cooperative projects. These tasks range from brief preliminary missions to major projects, such as the setting up of networks of vocational training or management development centers, to the establishment of full-scale rural development programs.

A cooperative project is deemed a success when it can be fully taken over by the national counterparts of the country concerned after the ILO experts have left. To encourage this trend, the ILO has made it possible for national officials to complete their training overseas. Many cooperative projects also provide for study grants and the organization of training courses and seminars. The supply of specialized equipment for certain services is another form of ILO aidfor example, equipment to set up vocational training centers.

The international technical cooperation effort is financed in part by UNDP. Some of the industrialized countries also make funds available to the ILO for cooperative projects.

The ILO concentrates its efforts on activities that produce maximum long-term results, such as the creation of institutions of various kinds or of training centers for trainers. It also seeks to enlist the aid of employers and workers in the technical cooperation effort.

Technical cooperation is linked to action promoting adherence to international labor standards, such as aid in the area of labor legislation and administration. This policy improves workers' conditions while taking into account the realities of the situation in the country concerned.

Unemployment and Underemployment

The ILO considers help to member states in the struggle against unemployment to be one of its major responsibilities. Much work has been carried out in this area. Guided by international labor standards, and often with the practical aid of the ILO, many countries have taken steps to ease the lot of the unemployed, to organize employment bureaus, and to develop vocational training facilities. However, these measures are far from enough to solve the immense unemployment problem facing the world today.

A coherent set of measures is needed to solve the unemployment and underemployment problem: development of rural areas, as well as urban industrialization; training of citizens in modern employment techniques; and taking a census of the active population and concentrating the development effort on the sectors and techniques calculated to absorb the maximum number of workers. In short, employment does not automatically flow from economic expansion unless it is geared to a policy designed to promote employment systematically. The International Labour Conference recognized this point when, in 1964, it adopted a convention and a recommendation on unemployment policy; the promotion and planning of employment are now an integral part of the development effort. Faced with the unemployment crisis, the ILO launched the World Employment Program in 1969. This program was the starting point in the ILO's efforts to help combat unemployment and underemployment.

It was in keeping with the recognition that growing world poverty required new initiatives that the World Employment Conference was held in 1976. The resulting declaration of principles and program of action called the world's attention to the need for full employment and an adequate income for every inhabitant in the shortest possible time.

The ILO-developed concept of basic needs is paramount to the effort to get to the root of poverty. Basic needs include two elements: certain minimum requirements of a family for private consumptionadequate food, shelter, and clothing are obviously included, as would be certain household equipment and furniture; and essential services provided for the community at large, such as safe drinking water, sanitation, public transportation, and health and education facilities.

The program of the 1976 conference emphasized that strategies and national development plans and policies should include explicitly, as a priority objective, the promotion of employment and the satisfaction of the basic needs of each country's population. The people should participate in making the decisions that affect them through organizations of their own choice. The concept of freely chosen employment is an integral part of a basic needs strategy. Among measures to be taken by governments to meet the target of creating sufficient jobs for all in developing countries by the year 2000 are ratification of selected ILO conventions; selection of development projects with a view to their employment and income distribution potential; and implementation of active labor market policies, with consideration given to social policies designed to increase the welfare of working people, especially women, the young, and the aged.

ILO operational activities and advisory missions remain important elements of the program. Regional employment teams in Asia, Africa, and Latin America provide technical advisory services and training courses in response to requests from a large number of countries.

Technical cooperation projects in the fields of employment planning, personnel planning, and labor-market information range from multiexpert, long-term projects to short-term consultancies and special advisory missions.

ILO technical advisory missions for special public works programs not only help governments define and, where appropriate, expand the scope of special public works programs and determine the technical feasibility of projects and organizational and staffing needs, but also assist in the preparation of technical cooperation components and in management reviews of ongoing programs.

At the 78th Session of the ILC in 1991, Director General Michel Hansenne raised the issue of the "working poor," the approximately 300 million people around the world who work in jobs that fall into what is called the "informal sector." Almost one-third of the world's gross domestic product is believed to be contributed by these millions working on the fringes of the recognized labor market. Such activities range from small manufacturing enterprises to a single person selling rolled cigarettes on a street corner. Generally, products of the informal sector require a low level of capital investment, technology, and skills. Low productivity or low wages imply that very long hours have to be worked to achieve a subsistence income.

The ILO initiatives focused on the informal sector are the Regional Employment Program for Latin America and the Caribbean (PREALC) and the Jobs and Skills Program for Africa (JASPA). These initiatives include gathering data, providing training and technical cooperation, promoting income-generating projects for specific vulnerable groups, studying ways to open traditional apprenticeship and training for production schemes to women, and examining case studies of regulatory barriers.

Development of Human Resources

In an age when production techniques and structures are rapidly changing, simultaneously with a rapid increase in the world's active population, the entire concept of labor and vocational training must be viewed in a new light.

Many trades for which young people are being prepared will undergo radical transformation, and the qualifications that workers hold today will be obsolete without frequent refresher courses. Moreover, there will be a steady increase in the number of workers switching from one sector to anotherfor example, from agriculture to industry or from industry to commerce.

Any modern conception of developing human resources must take these factors into account by extending and diversifying vocational training facilities: apprenticeships, technical training and education, advanced training, and refresher courses. Vocational guidance must be developed not only to aid young people to make a wise choice of a career but also to retrain adult workers for different jobs. A coherent policy aimed at utilizing human resources must, therefore, include measures that make it possible for the worker to continue education and training, depending on the person's aptitudes and the opportunities in the labor market.

Vocational training is one of the key elements of ILO's technical cooperation program. Hundreds of projects have been mounted on all continents, some designed to create or strengthen national vocational training systems and others aimed at specific sectors of the economy: specialized industries, agriculture, handicraft s, commerce, the hotel trade, and tourism, among others.

The ILO also cooperates in projects for management development and is active in the field of vocational rehabilitation. Its longstanding interest in handicapped people was expressed anew in 1983 with the adoption of a recommendation and a convention recognizing the importance that it attaches to the formulation and implementation of coherent national policies. The convention emphasizes collective participationnotably that of the representatives of employers' and workers' organizations and of the disabled themselvesin determining needs and developing vocational rehabilitation services at national as well as community levels.

The ILO's International Training Centre at Turin trained over 90,000 men and women from some 170 countries from 1965 through 2002.

Social Institutions

The ILO's efforts to foster social justice in order to improve working and living conditions and to encourage balanced economic and social development would be wasted if there were no social structures promoting large-scale participation.

To assist governments, employers' associations, and trade unions in building or consolidating the necessary institutions and mechanisms, the ILO is active in such fields as labor law and administration, labor relations, workers' education, promotion of cooperatives, and rural institutions.

The ILO's work in standard-setting has had a formative effect on social legislation and labor law throughout the world. The ILO also has supplied expert advice to countries requesting it on the measures needed to bring their legislation up to the level of international labor standards or to solve certain social problems. Many developing countries have sought ILO help in establishing or codifying their labor and social legislation. To ensure that the legislation is effectively applied, a country must have a labor administration that includes the necessary services. To meet this need and to help labor ministries play an active role in designing a development policy, the ILO has mounted an increasing number of projects in this field.

The ILO has always been keenly concerned with labor-management relations and with the relations among trade unions, employers' organizations, and governments. When such relations are cordial, they foster a climate conducive to economic and social progress. When they are unsatisfactory, they can impede united national development. The ILO considers labor relations to be good when they are based on the full recognition of freedom of association, in law and in practice, and when they permit labor, management, and government representatives to handle common problems.

Here again, technical cooperation is an extension of the action designed to set up standards and guidelines. ILO help is increasingly being sought in the field of industrial relations. Bipartite ILO missions comprising trade-union and management experts from industrialized countries have been sent to developing nations to encourage the establishment of a healthy working relationship between workers and employers. Study courses and seminars have been organized in various parts of the world.

Adequate training of workers' representatives is a prerequisite if they are to play an effective role in economic and social life. The trade unions themselves are aware of this fact and are increasing their own training programs accordingly. To assist them in this task, the ILO established a workers' education program to enable trade unions and workers' education bodies to develop their services and to provide workers and their representatives with the social and economic training they need. ILO efforts have been directed to such objectives as the training of unionists to help them take part in the planning and execution of development policies, the encouragement of cooperative action, and the organization of union research and information services.

As part of this program, the ILO has organized seminars, study courses, and technical discussions, often on a regional basis. An average of 50 courses of this type, including discussions on such matters as population and family planning, are held each year in different parts of the world. There is also a publications program, consisting of handbooks, booklets, bulletins, and educational material, in addition to a film and filmstrip lending library.

Since its earliest days, the ILO has played an important role in developing the cooperative movement. Its range of activities in this field has grown with the introduction of the cooperative system in many developing countries. The governments of these countries recognize that cooperatives provide an instrument that can facilitate social and economic advancement. With their builtin system of controls and internal management, their freely elected councils, and public discussion of their programs, cooperatives can be compared to grass-roots civics classes, giving their members a true sense of responsibility and involvement in national development. They are a unifying agent in bringing men and women together for constructive tasks, and they contribute to training for leadership. Above all, cooperatives are a key factor in rural development, for both production and marketing.

The creation of processing cooperatives in rural areas for handling produce, as well as the organization of cooperatives for small enterprises and handicraft workshops, can aid progress toward industrialization. Whatever form they take, cooperatives raise living standards and increase employment opportunities. At the request of the governments, and with the financial support of UNDP, ILO experts are helping countries set up or develop cooperative movements.

The interregional project for the production of materials and techniques for cooperative management training ended in 1990 after 13 years of operation. The terminal evaluation considered the project to have achieved results of high quality and relevance, with almost 200,000 people having been trained in more than 60 countries.

Enterprise and Cooperative Development

A major program to promote the establishment and effective operation of enterprises in the formal and informal sectors, in both rural and urban areas, was implemented in 1991. The Entrepreneurship and Management Development Program (now the Management and Corporate Citizenship Program) seeks to develop managerial resources at various levels and in various sectors of the economy in an environment characterized by rapid change.

Projects in operation focus on four major areas: productivity and competitiveness; management systems and decent work; International Labor Standards and good management practices; and socially responsible enterprise restructuring.

F. Problems of Key Industries

During World War II, and even earlier, it was felt that a gap existed in the structure of the ILO: special machinery was needed for the detailed and continuing study of specific industries by people with a thorough practical knowledge of their particular problems. Acting on a plan prepared by British Minister of Labour and National Services Ernest Bevin, submitted in 1943 by the UK government, the Governing Body established seven ILO industrial committees in 1945 "to provide machinery through which the special circumstances of the principal international industries [could] receive special and detailed consideration." By 1946, industrial committees had been created to deal with the problems of the following key industries: inland transport; coal mines; iron and steel; textiles; petroleum; building, civil engineering, and public works; and chemicals. In 1994 a total of 12 industrial committees were active: the Inland Transport; Coal Mines; Iron and Steel; Metal Trades; Textiles; Building, Civil Engineering, and Public Works; Chemical Industries; Committee on Work on Plantations; Advisory Committee on Salaried Employees and Professional Workers; Hotel, Catering and Tourism; Forestry and Wood Industries; Food and Drink Industries.

Other ILO committees that deal with special problems of international significance include the Advisory Committee on Salaried Employees and Professional Workers, the Permanent Agricultural Committee, and the Committee on Work on Plantations. The ILO has also established Asian, African, and inter-American advisory committees, which provide information on special regional problems. The ILO industrial committees are, in effect, small-scale specialized international labor conferences.

Resolutions adopted by these committees may call for further action on the part of the ILO. They may also be designed for the guidance of employers' associations and trade unions in their collective bargaining, and they may contain suggestions addressed to the UN, to other specialized agencies, or to governments. The following are a few examples of subjects concerning which important resolutions or recommendations have been adopted:

Inland transport: prevention of accidents involving dock labor; inland transport working conditions in Asia and Africa; automatic coupling of railway cars; transport and handling of dangerous goods; limitation of loads carried by one person; marking of weights on loads; and interport competition;

Coal mines: principles for incorporation in a coal miners' charter; coal miners' housing; productivity in coal mines; safety in coal mines; and the social consequences of fuel and power consumption trends;

Iron and steel: regularization of production and employment at a high level; dismissal pay and payment for public holidays; and cooperation at the industry level;

Metal trades: regularization of production and employment at a high level; and long-term estimates of raw material requirements; Textiles: disparities in wages in the textile industries of different countries;

Building, civil engineering, and public works: reduction of seasonal unemployment in the construction industry; social aspects of the world timber situation and outlook; and national housing programs;

Work on plantations: the place of the plantation in the general economy of the countries concerned; living and working conditions as related to plantation productivity; and the need for international action on commodity regulation; and

Salaried employees and professional workers: rights of the inventor who is an employee; migration of salaried and professional workers; hygiene in shops and offices; employment problems of musicians, actors, and other public performers; employment conditions of teachers; professional problems of journalists; problems involved in collective bargaining for white-collar and professional workers; wages and working conditions of hospital and health-service staff; and wages and working conditions of civil servants.

G. Other Activities

The Occupational Safety and Health Information Center (CIS)

In 1976, the ILO launched the International Program for the Improvement of Working Conditions and Environment (PIACT), aimed at giving governments and employers' and workers' organizations help in drawing up and implementing programs for the improvement of working conditions and environment. The various means of action included standard-setting; technical cooperation, including the sending of multidisciplinary teams to member states at their request; tripartite meetings, particularly meetings of industrial committees, regional meetings, and meetings of experts; action-oriented research and studies; and gathering and dissemination

of information, particularly through the International Occupational Safety and Health Information Center.

The International Occupational Safety and Health Information Center (CIS) has as its objective to collect and disseminate world information that can contribute to the prevention of occupational accidents and diseases. The center is assisted by more than 120 national centers representing all continents. The CIS also offers online compact disc and microcomputer databases.

The conditions in which men and women work are at the very heart of the ILO's mandate. Despite the progress achieved, the working conditions of a great many workers remain arduous or give rise to new problems as a result of technological developments. In this arena the ILO is concerned with the safety and healthfulness of the working environment, working time, organization and content of work, working conditions and choice of technology, and working and living environment.

In 1991, with the assistance of a grant from the German government, the International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC) was launched. More than 80 projects with government institutions, trade unions, employers' organizations, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were implemented in at least 12 countries.

International Health Hazard Alert System

A new approach to dealing with newly discovered or suspected occupational hazards, which spread very quickly around the world, is the ILO's International Health Hazard Alert System, established in 1977. When a new hazard is discovered, an alert is sent out by the ILO to the participating countries for their assessment and reply. For example, the communication concerning possible health hazards in the use of carbonless copy papers was widely disseminated in several countries. In 1993 the Health Hazard Alert System circulated requests to member states for up-to-date information on major occupational health hazards and their prevention.

Tripartite Declaration Concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy

The 1977 Tripartite Declaration Concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy applies to the fields of employment, training, conditions of work and life, and industrial relations. Already operational in the ILO, where it will continue to affect its purposes, it was foreseen as the employment and labor chapter of the proposed UN Code of Conduct on Transnational Corporations that has been the subject of prolonged debate. In the early 1990s the General Assembly decided to discontinue work on this subject. However, the matter of a code of conduct for transnational corporations continues to be raised. In 1996, UNCTAD Secretary-General Rubens Ricupero stated it would be particularly important "within the context of how to establish a balance between the rights and obligations of the countries that are the source of investments and the countries that receive the investments." The declaration stresses the positive contributions that multinational enterprises can make to economic and social progress and aims at minimizing and resolving the difficulties that their various operations may create. The principles are commended to governments and employers' and workers' organizations of home and host countries and to the multinational enterprises themselves for their voluntary observance.

The subject areas covered by the declaration conform to the areas of substantive competence of the ILO within the overall program of the UN. There are 22 ILO conventions and 27 recommendations referenced in the declaration. The declaration is universal in scope; it is addressed to all of the parties in the ILO's tripartite structure; it ascribes a leading role to multinational enterprises when they operate in developing countries; and, finally, it is voluntary.

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International Labor Organization


INTERNATIONAL LABOR ORGANIZATION. Founded in 1919 as part of the League of Nations, the International Labor Organization (ILO) is the only surviving creation of the Treaty of Versailles. In 1946 the ILO became the first agency of the United Nations.

The ILO formulates international labor standards, aiming to establish basic labor rights such as a prohibition on forced labor; the right to organize; the right to bargain collectively; and the right to equal opportunity across ethnic, racial, and gender differences. Western powers founded the ILO with the goal of diffusing the appeal of Bolshevism and harnessing the wartime loyalties of labor movements to a reformist internationalism; they also emphasized the practical importance of multilateral cooperation in the arena of labor reform—sweated labor in one country endangered decent labor standards among its competitors.

The United States, which never joined the League of Nations, did not join the ILO until 1934.However, Samuel Gompers, head of the American Federation of Labor, chaired the Labor Commission created by the 1919 Peace Conference to draft the ILO Constitution, which established the "tripartite" principle of organization that remains the ILO's cornerstone. Under tripartism—which makes the ILO unique among the UN and other international agencies—not only governments, but also workers and employers are represented (in a 2:1:1 ratio) in the ILO.

Tripartism proved the heart of U.S.-ILO tensions from the early 1950s through 1977, when the United States withdrew from the ILO. Interpreting tripartism to mean independent workers' and employers' representatives, the United States complained that Soviet, Eastern European, and some Third World union and employers' representatives were voting on government instructions. The issue was a thorny one: the ILO Credentials Committee pointed out in 1954 that "refusing to admit … persons duly nominated by their government …on the ground that the state concerned had a socialized economy would be an unwarranted interpretation of the [ILO] Constitution." Moreover, observers noted that U.S. representatives had not objected to the seating of government-controlled trade unions from Franco's Spain.

Another source of controversy lay in the ILO's expanding agenda from traditional labor standards to broader questions of political economy, full employment, development policies, and human rights concerns—which flowed from the increasing proportion of Third World nations among ILO members. The United States objected, partly on ideological grounds, partly because its representatives believed that the changes distracted the organization from its traditional focus upon verifiable commitments to specific rights and freedoms. Injured by the loss of U.S. dues, which accounted for one-quarter of the organization's budget, the ILO trimmed its sails, and the United States rejoined in 1980.

At the end of the twentieth century, the ILO enjoyed membership from over 160 nations, and had concluded 183 conventions. The ILO's main enforcement mechanism was publicity—the organization's stately hearings and reports continued to expose member nations' labor laws and practices to scrutiny. The need for international labor standards was never greater than in the era of "globalization," and the ILO's strongest supporters continue to lament the absence of stronger means of enforcement.


Alcock, Antony E. History of the International Labor Organization. New York: Octagon Books, 1971.

Ghebali, Victor Yves. The International Labour Organization: A Case Study on the Evolution of U.N. Specialized Agencies. Boston: M. Nijhoff, 1989.

William E.Forbath

See alsoAmerican Federation of Labor–Congress of Industrial Organizations ; Child Labor ; Labor ; Labor Legislation and Administration ; League of Nations ; Wages and Hours of Labor, Regulation of .

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International Labor Organization

International Labor Organization (ILO), specialized agency of the United Nations, with headquarters in Geneva. It was created in 1919 by the Versailles Treaty and affiliated with the League of Nations until 1945, when it voted to sever ties with the League. In 1946 it became the first specialized agency of the United Nations. Although not a member of the League, the United States joined the ILO in 1934. Through international action and by bringing together representatives of government, employers, and labor, the ILO seeks to improve labor conditions, promote a higher standard of living, and further social justice. Promotion of international accord on such matters as regulation of hours of work, provision of adequate wages, protection of workers against occupational disease and injury, and protection of women and children and of those who work outside their own countries (who may be forced into labor through deceptive recruiting practices) accounts for much of its activities. The ILO consists of a general conference of representatives of the members (four from each member state—two from the government, an employer, and a worker) that meets once a year, a governing body of 56 people (28 representing governments, 14 employers, and 14 labor) that meets three times a year, and an International Labor Office controlled by the governing body. The ILO is financed by contributions from member states; 186 countries belong to the organization. Protesting the political policies of the organization, the United States withdrew from the ILO between 1977 and 1980. The ILO received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1969. The organization puts out a number of publications containing statistics on labor and advice for workers.


See D. A. Morse, The Origin and Evolution of the I.L.O. and Its Role in the World Community (1969); C. W. Jenks, Social Justice and the Law of Nations (1970); A. E. Alcock, History of the International Labour Organisation (1971); V. Y. Ghebali, The International Labour Organisation (1989); M. Imber, The USA, ILO, UNESCO and IAEA (1989).

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