International Labour Organization
International Labour Organization
|Abbreviation||ILO / OIT|
The International Labour Organization (ILO) is a United Nations agency dealing with labour issues, particularly international labour standards, social protection, and work opportunities for all. The ILO has 187 member states: 186 of the 193 UN member states plus the Cook Islands are members of the ILO.
In 1969, the organization received the Nobel Peace Prize for improving peace among classes, pursuing decent work and justice for workers, and providing technical assistance to other developing nations.
The ILO registers complaints against entities that are violating international rules; however, it does not impose sanctions on governments.
Governance, organization, and membership
Unlike other United Nations specialized agencies, the International Labour Organization has a tripartite governing structure – representing governments, employers, and workers (usually with a ratio of 2:1:1). The rationale behind the tripartite structure is the creation of free and open debate among governments and social partners.
The ILO secretariat (staff) is referred to as the International Labour Office.
The Governing Body decides the agenda of the International Labour Conference, adopts the draft programme and budget of the organization for submission to the conference, elects the director-general, requests information from member states concerning labour matters, appoints commissions of inquiry and supervises the work of the International Labour Office.
This governing body is composed of 28 government representatives, 14 workers' representatives, and 14 employers' representatives.
Ten of the government seats are held by member states that are nations of "chief industrial importance," as first considered by an "impartial committee." The nations are Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States. The terms of office are three years.
International Labour Conference
The ILO organizes the International Labour Conference in Geneva every year in June, where conventions and recommendations are crafted and adopted. Also known as the "parliament of labour", the conference also makes decisions about the ILO's general policy, work programme and budget.
Each member state has four representatives at the conference: two government delegates, an employer delegate and a worker delegate. All of them have individual voting rights, and all votes are equal, regardless of the population of the delegate's member state. The employer and worker delegates are normally chosen in agreement with the "most representative" national organizations of employers and workers. Usually, the workers' delegates coordinate their voting, as do the employers' delegates. All delegate have the same rights, and are not required to vote in blocs.
Through July 2011, the ILO has adopted 189 conventions. If these conventions are ratified by enough governments, they become in force. However, ILO conventions are considered international labour standards regardless of ratifications. When a convention comes into force, it creates a legal obligation for ratifying nations to apply its provisions.
Every year the International Labour Conference's Committee on the Application of Standards examines a number of alleged breaches of international labour standards. Governments are required to submit reports detailing their compliance with the obligations of the conventions they have ratified. Conventions that have not been ratified by member states have the same legal force as do recommendations.
In 1998, the 86th International Labour Conference adopted the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. This declaration contains four fundamental policies:
- The right of workers to associate freely and bargain collectively;
- The end of forced and compulsory labour;
- The end of child labour; and
- The end of unfair discrimination among workers.
The ILO asserts that its members have an obligation to work towards fully respecting these principles, embodied in relevant ILO Conventions. The ILO Conventions which embody the fundamental principles have now been ratified by most member states.
Recommendations do not have the binding force of conventions and are not subject to ratification. Recommendations may be adopted at the same time as conventions to supplement the latter with additional or more detailed provisions. In other cases recommendations may be adopted separately and may address issues separate from particular conventions.
As of April 2016, the ILO has 187 state members. 186 of the 193 member states of the United Nations plus the Cook Islands are members of the ILO. The UN member states which are not members of the ILO are Andorra, Bhutan, Liechtenstein, Micronesia, Monaco, Nauru, and North Korea.
The ILO constitution permits any member of the UN to become a member of the ILO. To gain membership, a nation must inform the Director-General that it accepts all the obligations of the ILO constitution. Other states can be admitted by a two-thirds vote of all delegates, including a two-thirds vote of government delegates, at any ILO General Conference. The Cook Islands, a non-UN state, joined in June 2015.
Members of the ILO under the League of Nations automatically became members when the organization's new constitution came into effect after World War II.
Position within the UN
The International Labour Organization (ILO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN). As with other UN specialized agencies (or programmes) working on international development, the ILO is also a member of the United Nations Development Group.
While the ILO was established as an agency of the League of Nations following World War I, its founders had made great strides in social thought and action before 1919. The core members all knew one another from earlier private professional and ideological networks, in which they exchanged knowledge, experiences, and ideas on social policy. Prewar "epistemic communities", such as the International Association for Labour Legislation (IALL), founded in 1900, and political networks, such as the socialist Second International, were a decisive factor in the institutionalization of international labour politics.
In the post–World War I euphoria, the idea of a "makeable society" was an important catalyst behind the social engineering of the ILO architects. As a new discipline, international labour law became a useful instrument for putting social reforms into practice. The utopian ideals of the founding members—social justice and the right to decent work—were changed by diplomatic and political compromises made at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, showing the ILO's balance between idealism and pragmatism.
Over the course of the First World War, the international labour movement proposed a comprehensive programme of protection for the working classes, conceived as compensation for labour's support during the war. Post-war reconstruction and the protection of labour unions occupied the attention of many nations during and immediately after World War I. In Great Britain, the Whitley Commission, a subcommittee of the Reconstruction Commission, recommended in its July 1918 Final Report that "industrial councils" be established throughout the world. The British Labour Party had issued its own reconstruction programme in the document titled Labour and the New Social Order. In February 1918, the third Inter-Allied Labour and Socialist Conference (representing delegates from Great Britain, France, Belgium and Italy) issued its report, advocating an international labour rights body, an end to secret diplomacy, and other goals. And in December 1918, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) issued its own distinctively apolitical report, which called for the achievement of numerous incremental improvements via the collective bargaining process.
IFTU Bern Conference
As the war drew to a close, two competing visions for the post-war world emerged. The first was offered by the International Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), which called for a meeting in Bern, Switzerland, in July 1919. The Bern meeting would consider both the future of the IFTU and the various proposals which had been made in the previous few years. The IFTU also proposed including delegates from the Central Powers as equals. Samuel Gompers, president of the AFL, boycotted the meeting, wanting the Central Powers delegates in a subservient role as an admission of guilt for their countries' role in the bringing about war. Instead, Gompers favoured a meeting in Paris which would only consider President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points as a platform. Despite the American boycott, the Bern meeting went ahead as scheduled. In its final report, the Bern Conference demanded an end to wage labour and the establishment of socialism. If these ends could not be immediately achieved, then an international body attached to the League of Nations should enact and enforce legislation to protect workers and trade unions.
Commission on International Labour Legislation
Meanwhile, the Paris Peace Conference sought to dampen public support for communism. Subsequently, the Allied Powers agreed that clauses should be inserted into the emerging peace treaty protecting labour unions and workers' rights, and that an international labour body be established to help guide international labour relations in the future. The advisory Commission on International Labour Legislation was established by the Peace Conference to draft these proposals. The Commission met for the first time on 1 February 1919, and Gompers was elected chairman.
Two competing proposals for an international body emerged during the Commission's meetings. The British proposed establishing an international parliament to enact labour laws which each member of the League would be required to implement. Each nation would have two delegates to the parliament, one each from labour and management. An international labour office would collect statistics on labour issues and enforce the new international laws. Philosophically opposed to the concept of an international parliament and convinced that international standards would lower the few protections achieved in the United States, Gompers proposed that the international labour body be authorized only to make recommendations, and that enforcement be left up to the League of Nations. Despite vigorous opposition from the British, the American proposal was adopted.
Gompers also set the agenda for the draft charter protecting workers' rights. The Americans made 10 proposals. Three were adopted without change: That labour should not be treated as a commodity; that all workers had the right to a wage sufficient to live on; and that women should receive equal pay for equal work. A proposal protecting the freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association was amended to include only freedom of association. A proposed ban on the international shipment of goods made by children under the age of 16 was amended to ban goods made by children under the age of 14. A proposal to require an eight-hour work day was amended to require the eight-hour work day or the 40-hour work week (an exception was made for countries where productivity was low). Four other American proposals were rejected. Meanwhile, international delegates proposed three additional clauses, which were adopted: One or more days for weekly rest; equality of laws for foreign workers; and regular and frequent inspection of factory conditions.
The Commission issued its final report on 4 March 1919, and the Peace Conference adopted it without amendment on 11 April. The report became Part XIII of the Treaty of Versailles.
The first annual conference (referred to as the International Labour Conference, or ILC) began on 29 October 1919 at the Pan American Union Building in Washington, D.C. and adopted the first six International Labour Conventions, which dealt with hours of work in industry, unemployment, maternity protection, night work for women, minimum age,night work for young persons in industry. The prominent French socialist Albert Thomas became its first Director General.
Despite open disappointment and sharp critique, the revived International Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) quickly adapted itself to this mechanism. The IFTU increasingly oriented its international activities around the lobby work of the ILO.
At the time of establishment, the U.S. government was not a member of ILO, as the US Senate rejected the Covenant of the League of Nations, and the United States could not join any of its agencies. Following the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the U.S. presidency, the new administration made renewed efforts to join the ILO even without League membership. On 19 June 1934, the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution authorizing the President to join ILO without joining the League of Nations as a whole. On 22 June 1934, the ILO adopted a resolution inviting the U.S. government to join the organization. On 20 August 1934, the U.S. government responded positively and took its seat at the ILO.
Wartime and the United Nations
During the Second World War, when Switzerland was surrounded by German troops, ILO Director John G. Winant made the decision to leave Geneva. In August 1940, the Government of Canada officially invited the ILO to be housed at McGill University in Montreal. Forty staff members were transferred to the temporary offices and continued to work from McGill until 1948.
The ILO became the first specialized agency of the United Nations system after the demise of the League in 1946. Its constitution, as amended, includes the Declaration of Philadelphia (1944) on the aims and purposes of the organization.
Cold War era
In July 1970, the United States withdrew 50% of its financial support to the ILO following the appointment of an Assistant-Director General from the Soviet Union. This appointment (by the ILO's British Director-General, C. Wilfred Jenks) drew particular criticism from AFL–CIO president George Meany and from Congressman John E. Rooney. However, the funds were eventually paid.
On 12 June 1975, the ILO voted to grant the Palestinian Liberation Organization observer status at its meetings. Representatives of the United States and Israel walked out of the meeting. The U.S. House of Representatives subsequently decided to withhold funds. The United States gave notice of full withdrawal on 6 November 1975, stating that the organization had become politicized. The United States also suggested that representation from communist countries was not truly "tripartite"—including government, workers, and employers—because of the structure of these economies. The withdrawal became effective on 1 November 1977.
The United States returned to the organization in 1980 after extracting some concessions from the organization. It was partly responsible for the ILO's shift away from a human rights approach and towards support for the Washington Consensus. Economist Guy Standing wrote "the ILO quietly ceased to be an international body attempting to redress structural inequality and became one promoting employment equity".
The ILO is a major provider of labour statistics. Labour statistics are an important tool for its member states to monitor their progress toward improving labour standards. As part of their statistical work, ILO maintains several databases. This database covers 11 major data series for over 200 countries. In addition, ILO publishes a number of compilations of labour statistics, such as the Key Indicators of Labour Markets (KILM). KILM covers 20 main indicators on labour participation rates, employment, unemployment, educational attainment, labour cost, and economic performance. Many of these indicators have been prepared by other organizations. For example, the Division of International Labour Comparisons of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics prepares the hourly compensation in manufacturing indicator.
The U.S. Department of Labor also publishes a yearly report containing a List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor issued by the Bureau of International Labor Affairs. The December 2014 updated edition of the report listed a total of 74 countries and 136 goods.
Training and teaching units
The International Training Centre of the International Labour Organization (ITCILO) is based in Turin, Italy. Together with the University of Turin Department of Law, the ITC offers training for ILO officers and secretariat members, as well as offering educational programmes. For instance, the ITCILO offers a Master of Laws programme in management of development, which aims specialize professionals in the field of cooperation and development.
The term child labour is often defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, potential, dignity, and is harmful to their physical and mental development.
Child labour refers to work that:
- is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and
- interferes with their schooling by:
- depriving them of the opportunity to attend school;
- obliging them to leave school prematurely; or
- requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.
In its most extreme forms, child labour involves children being enslaved, separated from their families, exposed to serious hazards and illnesses and/or left to fend for themselves on the streets of large cities – often at a very early age. Whether or not particular forms of "work" can be called child labour depends on the child's age, the type and hours of work performed, the conditions under which it is performed and the objectives pursued by individual countries. The answer varies from country to country, as well as among sectors within countries.
ILO's response to child labour
The ILO's International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) was created in 1992 with the overall goal of the progressive elimination of child labour, which was to be achieved through strengthening the capacity of countries to deal with the problem and promoting a worldwide movement to combat child labour. IPEC currently has operations in 88 countries, with an annual expenditure on technical cooperation projects that reached over US$74 million, €50 million in 2006. It is the largest programme of its kind globally and the biggest single operational programme of the ILO.
The number and range of IPEC's partners have expanded over the years and now include employers' and workers' organizations, other international and government agencies, private businesses, community-based organizations, NGOs, the media, parliamentarians, the judiciary, universities, religious groups and, of course, children and their families.
IPEC's work to eliminate child labour is an important facet of the ILO's Decent Work Agenda. Child labour not only prevents children from acquiring the skills and education they need for a better future, it also perpetuates poverty and affects national economies through losses in competitiveness, productivity and potential income.
Exceptions in indigenous communities
Because of different cultural views involving labour, the International Labour Organization (ILO) developed a series of culturally sensitive mandates including Conventions No. 169, 107, 138, and 182 to protect indigenous culture, traditions, and identities. Conventions No. 138 and 182 lead in the fight against child labour, while No. 107 and 169 promote the right of indigenous and tribal peoples and protect their right to define their own developmental priorities. The ILO recognizes these changes are necessary to respect the culture and traditions of other communities while also looking after the welfare of children.
In many indigenous communities, parents believe children learn important life lessons through the act of work and through the participation in daily life. Working is seen as a learning process preparing children of the future tasks they will eventually have to do as an adult. It is a belief that the family's and child well-being and survival is a shared responsibility between members of the whole family. They also see work as an intrinsic part of their child's developmental process. While these attitudes toward child work remain, many children and parents from indigenous communities still highly value education. ILO wants to include these communities in the fight against exploitative child labour while being sensitive to their traditions and values.
The ILO has considered the fight against forced labour to be one of its main priorities. During the interwar years, the issue was mainly considered a colonial phenomenon, and the ILO's concern was to establish minimum standards protecting the inhabitants of colonies from the worst abuses committed by economic interests. After 1945, the goal became to set a uniform and universal standard, determined by the higher awareness gained during World War II of politically and economically motivated systems of forced labour, but debates were hampered by the Cold War and by exemptions claimed by colonial powers. Since the 1960s, declarations of labour standards as a component of human rights have been weakened by government of postcolonial countries claiming a need to exercise extraordinary powers over labour in their role as emergency regimes promoting rapid economic development.
In June 1998 the International Labour Conference adopted a Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its Follow-up that obligates member States to respect, promote and realize freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour, the effective abolition of child labour, and the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.
With the adoption of the Declaration, the International Labour Organization (ILO) created the InFocus Programme on Promoting the Declaration which is responsible for the reporting processes and technical cooperation activities associated with the Declaration; and it carries out awareness raising, advocacy and knowledge functions.
In November 2001, following the publication of the in Focus Programme's first Global Report on forced labour, the ILO Governing Body created a Special Action Programme to Combat Forced Labour (SAP-FL), as part of broader efforts to promote the 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its Follow-up.
Since its inception, SAP-FL has focused on raising global awareness of forced labour in its different forms, and mobilizing action against its manifestation. Several thematic and country-specific studies and surveys have since been undertaken, on such diverse aspects of forced labour as bonded labour, human trafficking, forced domestic work, rural servitude, and forced prison labour.
The Special Action Programme to combat Forced Labour (SAP-FL) has spearheaded the ILO's work in this field since early 2002. The programme is designed to:
- Raise global awareness and understanding of modern forced labour
- Assist governments in developing and implementing new laws, policies and action plans
- Develop and disseminate guidance and training materials on key aspects of forced labour and trafficking
- Implement innovative programmes that combine policy development, capacity building of law enforcement and labour market institutions, and targeted, field-based projects of direct support for both prevention of forced labour and identification and rehabilitation of its victims.
Minimum wage law
To protect the right of labours for fixing minimum wage, ILO has created Minimum Wage-Fixing Machinery Convention, 1928, Minimum Wage Fixing Machinery (Agriculture) Convention, 1951 and Minimum Wage Fixing Convention, 1970 as minimum wage law.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) is the lead UN-agency on HIV workplace policies and programmes and private sector mobilization. The ILO recognizes that HIV has a potentially devastating impact on labour and productivity and represents an enormous burden for working people, their families and communities. ILOAIDS is the branch of the ILO dedicated to this issue.
The ILO has been involved with the HIV response since 1998. In June 2001, the ILO's Governing Body adopted a pioneering Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS and the World of Work, which was launched during a special session of the UN General Assembly.
The same year, ILO became a cosponsor of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
In 2010, the 99th International Labour Conference adopted the ILO's Recommendation concerning HIV and AIDS and the World of Work, 2010 (No. 200), the first international labour standard on HIV and AIDS. The Recommendation lays out a comprehensive set of principles to protect the rights of HIV-positive workers and their families, while scaling up prevention in the workplace. Working under the theme of 'Preventing HIV, Protecting Human Rights at Work,' ILOAIDS undertakes a range of policy advisory, research and technical support functions in the area of HIV and AIDS and the world of work. ILO also works on promoting social protection as a means of reducing vulnerability to HIV and mitigating its impact on those living with or affected by HIV.
ILOAIDS is currently engaged in the "Getting to Zero" campaign to arrive at zero new infections, zero AIDS-related deaths and zero-discrimination by 2015. Building on this campaign, ILOAIDS is executing a programme of voluntary and confidential counselling and testing at work, known as VCT@WORK.
As the word "migrant" suggests, migrant workers refer to those who moves from place to place to do their job. For the rights of migrant workers, ILO has adopted conventions, including Migrant Workers (Supplementary Provisions) Convention, 1975 and United Nations Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families in 1990.
Domestic workers are those who perform a variety of tasks for and in other peoples' homes. For example, they may cook / clean the house and look after children. Yet they are often the ones with the least consideration, excluded from labour and social protection. This is mainly due to the fact that women have traditionally carried out the tasks without pay. For the rights and decent work of domestic workers including migrant domestic workers, ILO has adopted Convention on domestic workers on 16 June 2011.
ILO and globalization
Seeking a process of globalization that is inclusive, democratically governed and provides opportunities and tangible benefits for all countries and people. The World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization was established by the ILO's Governing Body in February 2002 at the initiative of the Director-General in response to the fact that there did not appear to be a space within the multilateral system that would cover adequately and comprehensively the social dimension of the various aspects of globalization. The World Commission Report, A Fair Globalization: Creating Opportunities for All, is the first attempt at structured dialogue among representatives of constituencies with different interests and opinions on the social dimension of globalization, aimed at finding common ground on one of the most controversial and divisive subjects of our time.
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- Official website
- The International Training Centre of the ILO
- Nobel Peace Prize 1969 for the ILO
- Contains electronic copies of ILO reports published from 1919 onwards