What Is the ILO and How Does It Work?

ILO LogoThis is the first in a series of profiles on organizations involved in labor and human rights. We urge you to comment on our brief profiles with your insights and additional information.

What Is the ILO?

The International Labour Organization (ILO) was created in 1919, as part of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I, to reflect the belief that universal and lasting peace can be accomplished only if it is based on social justice. In 1946 it then became the first specialized agency under the United Nations following World War II. Its mission is to provide the framework for decent working conditions for people around the world; including job related security and better living standards. It is the ILO’s belief that work is integral to our lives and well-being and is the main route out of poverty for the 2 billion people living today on one dollar a day. The ILO was charged with the creation of international labor standards and strives to maintain them today.

How does the ILO work?

Member states (each represented by one employer and one worker delegate and two government delegates) meet at the International Labour Conference once annually in June in Geneva to discuss, establish and adopt international labour standards, approve the budget and elect the Governing Body.

The Governing Body is the executive council of the ILO and meets three times annually. It makes decisions on ILO policy, establishes the program and budget to then submit to the conference for adoption.

The International Labour Office is the permanent secretariat of the ILO where the Director General is housed. It is overseen by the Governing Body.

ILO Conventions – What Are They and What Do They Mean?

The core standards are:

  • Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining
  • Elimination of Forced and Compulsory Labour
  • Elimination of Workplace Discrimination
  • Abolition of Child Labour

In summary, the core standards indicate that all workers shall be free to organize and associate with other workers as they see fit. All workers shall not be coerced or otherwise obliged to work without their consent. Discrimination in regard to sex, race, class or sexual orientation is not tolerated under the standards. And finally no person under the age of 16 shall be allowed to work.

These protections are integral to ensuring worker safety and satisfaction under the auspices of the United Nations International Labour Organization and are widely accepted around the world as the standard for workers’ human rights. As these standards become more and more well known companies strive to integrate them as part of the corporate social responsibility mandates.

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