Here’s How The International Labour Organization Protects Our Rights

By Jack Beadsworth, Volunteer Writer 29 Oct 2019

The International Labour Organization (ILO) celebrates its 100th birthday today (29 October 2019). Most people have never heard of it, yet it is an essential organisation in the protection of workers and their rights around the world. So what is the ILO, and what does it do?

What Is It?

The ILO is an international organisation dedicated to setting international standards for employment and social protection. It was established by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 as a response to the devastating conflict of World War One, the growing threat of Bolshevik revolution in Europe, and as a result of pressure by national workers movements.

It was originally a part of the League of Nations, but is now a United Nations agency and has 187 members.

What Does It Stand For?

Image Credit: Flickr. 

Whilst its specific objectives and policies change as the world of work changes, the fundamental principles of the ILO can be identified in the 1944 Declaration of Philadelphia as being as follows:

  • Labour is not a commodity;
  • Lasting peace can be established only if it is based on social justice;
  • Freedom of expression and association are essential to sustained progress;
  • Poverty anywhere constitutes a danger to prosperity everywhere;
  • The war against want requires to be carried on with unrelenting vigour within each nation, and by continuous and concerted international effort in which the representatives of workers and employers;
  • All human beings, irrespective of race, creed or sex, have the right to pursue both their material well-being and their spiritual development in conditions of freedom and dignity, of economic security and equal opportunity.

The ILO has more recently turned its attention to the creation of decent work; ensuring that workers are not harmed by globalisation; and addressing how technological advances, demographic changes, and the need for sustainability will affect the future of work.

How Does It Operate?

Image Credit: Flickr. 

The ILO has a unique system of governance in which its governing body is formed of three different groups:

  1. representatives of member governments;
  2. representatives of employers organisations;
  3. representatives of workers organisations.

Its primary function is setting international standards through Conventions, which national governments can then sign up to. If a government does sign up to a Convention, it must introduce laws to meet the objectives of the Convention and produce regular reports on the measures that it has introduced to meet its requirements. If a government does not meet the requirements of a Convention the ILO can – after receiving a report from an employers’ organisation or workers’ organisation – name and shame that government.

190 Conventions have been created, although some are now outdated or have been withdrawn.

The ILO also provides technical assistance to governments implementing its Conventions, conducts important research on issues related to employment and social security, and produces recommendations (essentially suggestions for policies governments might pursue).

What Is Its Role In Human Rights Protection?

Opening session of the 103rd Session of the International Labour Conference

Image Credit: Flickr. 

Whilst the ILO primarily regulates employment rights and issues relating to workers and the workplace, it does protect a number of human rights that are important to maintaining human freedom and dignity whilst at work. The ILO has identified four fundamental rights at work:

  • Freedom of association and collective bargaining;
  • Non-discrimination;
  • Freedom from forced or compulsory labour;
  • Freedom from child labour.

With recent reports of the government’s plans to weaken worker protections currently protected by EU law after Brexit, there is a risk that the UK will fail to abide by some of its obligations under ILO Conventions. This risk brings with it the potential for the UK to be ‘named and shamed’ by the ILO, and for the Conventions to be cited more frequently in UK courts.

The ILO is a highly complex and technical organisation which cannot be fully explained here. If you are interested in the history and the work of the ILO, more information can be found on its website here.

Featured Image Credit: Flickr. 

About The Author

Jack Beadsworth Volunteer Writer

Jack graduated from the University of Oxford with a BA in Jurisprudence before qualifying as a Barrister this summer at the University of Law. He is now studying a Masters in Human Rights Law at the University of Bristol.

Jack graduated from the University of Oxford with a BA in Jurisprudence before qualifying as a Barrister this summer at the University of Law. He is now studying a Masters in Human Rights Law at the University of Bristol.