International Labour Organization (ILO)


Declaration concerning the aims and purposes of the International Labour Organisation

The General Conference of the International Labour Organization, meeting in its Twenty-sixth Session in Philadelphia, hereby adopts, this tenth day of May in the year nineteen hundred and forty-four, the present Declaration of the aims and purposes of the International Labour Organization and of the principles which should inspire the policy of its Members.

The Conference reaffirms the fundamental principles on which the Organization is based and, in particular, that:

(a) labour is not a commodity;
(b) freedom of expression and of association are essential to sustained progress;
(c) poverty anywhere constitutes a danger to prosperity everywhere;
(d) 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, 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.

Believing that experience has fully demonstrated the truth of the statement in the Constitution of the International Labour Organisation that lasting peace can be established only if it is based on social justice, the Conference affirms that:

(a) 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;
(b) the attainment of the conditions in which this shall be possible must constitute the central aim of national and international policy;
(c) all national and international policies and measures, in particular those of an economic and financial character, should be judged in this light and accepted only in so far as they may be held to promote and not to hinder the achievement of this fundamental objective;
(d) it is a responsibility of the International Labour Organization to examine and consider all international economic and financial policies and measures in the light of this fundamental objective;
(e) in discharging the tasks entrusted to it the International Labour Organization, having considered all relevant economic and financial factors, may include in its decisions and recommendations any provisions which it considers appropriate.

The Conference recognizes the solemn obligation of the International Labour Organization to further among the nations of the world programmes which will achieve:

(a) full employment and the raising of standards of living;
(b) the employment of workers in the occupations in which they can have the satisfaction of giving the fullest measure of their skill and attainments and make their greatest contribution to the common well-being;
(c) the provision, as a means to the attainment of this end and under adequate guarantees for all concerned, of facilities for training and the transfer of labour, including migration for employment and settlement;
(d) 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;
(e) the effective recognition of the right of collective bargaining, the cooperation of management and labour in the continuous improvement of productive efficiency, and the collaboration of workers and employers in the preparation and application of social and economic measures;
(f) the extension of social security measures to provide a basic income to all in need of such protection and comprehensive medical care;
(g) adequate protection for the life and health of workers in all occupations;
(h) provision for child welfare and maternity protection;
(i) the provision of adequate nutrition, housing and facilities for recreation and culture;
(j) the assurance of equality of educational and vocational opportunity.

Confident that the fuller and broader utilization of the world’s productive resources necessary for the achievement of the objectives set forth in this Declaration can be secured by effective international and national action, including measures to expand production and consumption, to avoid severe economic fluctuations to promote the economic and social advancement of the less developed regions of the world, to assure greater stability in world prices of primary products, and to promote a high and steady volume of international trade, the Conference pledges the full cooperation of the International Labour Organization with such international bodies as may be entrusted with a share of the responsibility for this great task and for the promotion of the health, education and well-being of all peoples.

The conference affirms that the principles set forth in this Declaration are fully applicable to all peoples everywhere and that, while the manner of their application must be determined with due regard to the stage of social and economic development reached by each people, their progressive application to peoples who are still dependent, as well as to those who have already achieved self-government, is a matter of concern to the whole civilized world.

How the ILO works?

Tripartism and social dialogue

Underlying the ILO’s work is the importance of cooperation between governments and employers’ and workers’ organizations in fostering social and economic progress.The ILO aims to ensure that it serves the needs of working women and men by bringing together governments, employers and workers to set labour standards, develop policies and devise programmes. The very structure of the ILO, where workers and employers together have an equal voice with governments in its deliberations, shows social dialogue in action. It ensures that the views of the social partners are closely reflected in ILO labour standards, policies and programmes.

The ILO encourages this tripartism within its constituents and member States by promoting a social dialogue between trade unions and employers in formulating, and where appropriate, implementing national policy on social, economic, and many other issues.

The ILO accomplishes its work through three main bodies (The International labour Conference, the Governing body and the Office) which comprise governments’, employers’ and workers’ representatives.

The work of the Governing Body and of the Office is aided by tripartite committees covering major industries. It is also supported by committees of experts on such matters as vocational training, management development, occupational safety and health, industrial relations, workers’ education, and special problems of women and young workers.

Regional meetings of the ILO member States are held periodically to examine matters of special interest to the regions concerned.
International Labour Conference International labour standards and the broad policies of the ILO are set by the International Labour Conference, which meets annually. Often called an international parliament of labour, the Conference is also a forum for discussion of key social and labour questions.
Standards supervisory systemInternational labour standards are backed by a supervisory system that helps to ensure that countries implement the conventions they ratify.
Governing bodyThe Governing Body is the executive council of the ILO and meets three times a year in Geneva. It takes decisions on ILO policy and establishes the programme and the budget, which it then submits to the Conference for adoption.
Partnerships and development Since the early 1950s, the ILO has been providing technical cooperation to countries on all continents and at all stages of economic development. Projects are implemented through close cooperation between recipient countries, donors, and the ILO, which maintains a network of area and regional offices worldwide. International Labour Office The ILO secretariat, operational headquarters, research centre and publishing house, are based in the International Labour Office, Geneva. Administration and management are decentralized in regional, area, and branch offices. Programme and Budget The Programme and Budget of the Organization which sets out the strategic objectives and expected outcomes for the Organization’s work is approved every two years by the International Labour Conference

Mission and objectives
The International Labour Organization (ILO) is devoted to promoting social justice and internationally recognized human and labour rights, pursuing its founding mission that labour peace is essential to prosperity. Today, the ILO helps advance the creation of decent work and the economic and working conditions that give working people and business people a stake in lasting peace, prosperity and progress. Its tripartite structure provides a unique platform for promoting decent work for all women and men. Its main aims are to promote rights at work, encourage decent employment opportunities, enhance social protection and strengthen dialogue on work-related issues.

The ILO has four strategic objectives
Promote and realize standards and fundamental principles and rights at work
Create greater opportunities for women and men to decent employment and income
Enhance the coverage and effectiveness of social protection for all
Strengthen tripartism and social dialogue

In support of its goals, the ILO offers unmatched expertise and knowledge about the world of work, acquired over more than 90 years of responding to the needs of people everywhere for decent work, livelihoods and dignity. It serves its tripartite constituents – and society as a whole – in a variety of ways, including:
Formulation of international policies and programmes to promote basic human rights, improve working and living conditions, and enhance employment opportunities
Creation of international labour standards backed by a unique system to supervise their application
An extensive programme of international technical cooperation formulated and implemented in an active partnership with constituents, to help countries put these policies into practice in an effective manner
Training, education and research activities to help advance all of these efforts

The 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.

The Constitution was drafted between January and April, 1919, by the Labour Commission set up by the Peace Conference, which first met in Paris and then in Versailles. The Commission, chaired by Samuel Gompers, head of the American Federation of Labour (AFL) in the United States, was composed of representatives from nine countries: Belgium, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, France, Italy, Japan, Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States. It resulted in a tripartite organization, the only one of its kind bringing together representatives of governments, employers and workers in its executive bodies.

The Constitution contained ideas tested within the International Association for Labour Legislation, founded in Basel in 1901. Advocacy for an international organization dealing with labour issues began in the nineteenth century, led by two industrialists, Robert Owen (1771-1853) of Wales and Daniel Legrand (1783-1859) of France.

The driving forces for ILO’s creation arose from security, humanitarian, political and economic considerations. Summarizing them, the ILO Constitution’s Preamble says the High Contracting Parties were ‘moved by sentiments of justice and humanity as well as by the desire to secure the permanent peace of the world…’

There was keen appreciation of the importance of social justice in securing peace, against a background of exploitation of workers in the industrializing nations of that time. There was also increasing understanding of the world’s economic interdependence and the need for cooperation to obtain similarity of working conditions in countries competing for markets. Reflecting these ideas, the Preamble states:

Whereas universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice;
And whereas conditions of labour 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; and an improvement of those conditions is urgently required;
Whereas also the failure of any nation to adopt humane conditions of labour is an obstacle in the way of other nations which desire to improve the conditions in their own countries.
The areas of improvement listed in the Preamble remain relevant today, for example:

Regulation of the hours of work including the establishment of a maximum working day and week;
Regulation of labour supply, prevention of unemployment and provision of an adequate living wage;
Protection of the worker against sickness, disease and injury arising out of his 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;
Recognition of the principle of freedom of association;
Organization of vocational and technical education, and other measures.

Early days

Working for social justice is our assessment of the past and our mandate for the future.”
Juan Somavia, Director-General

The ILO has made signal contributions to the world of work from its early days. The first International Labour Conference held in Washington in October 1919 adopted six International Labour Conventions, which dealt with hours of work in industry, unemployment, maternity protection, night work for women, minimum age and night work for young persons in industry.

The ILO was located in Geneva in the summer of 1920 with France’s Albert Thomas as the first Director of the International Labour Office, which is the Organization’s permanent Secretariat. Under his strong impetus, 16 International Labour Conventions and 18 Recommendations were adopted in less than two years.

This early zeal was quickly toned down because some governments felt there were too many Conventions, the budget too high and the reports too critical. Yet, the International Court of Justice declared that the ILO’s domain extended also to international regulation of conditions of work in the agricultural sector.

A Committee of Experts was set up in 1926 as a supervisory system on the application of ILO standards. The Committee, which exists today, is composed of independent jurists responsible for examining government reports and presenting its own report each year to the Conference.

Depression and War
The Great Depression with its resulting massive unemployment soon confronted Britain’s Harold Butler, who succeeded Albert Thomas in 1932. Realizing that handling labour issues also requires international cooperation, the United States became a Member of the ILO in 1934 although it continued to stay out of the League of Nations.

American John Winant took over in 1939 just as the Second World War became imminent. He moved the ILO’s headquarters temporarily to Montreal, Canada, in May 1940 for reasons of safety but left in 1941 when he was named US Ambassador to Britain.

His successor, Ireland’s Edward Phelan, had helped to write the 1919 Constitution and played an important role once again during the Philadelphia meeting of the International Labour Conference, in the midst of the Second World War, attended by representatives of governments, employers and workers from 41 countries. The delegates adopted the Declaration of Philadelphia, annexed to the Constitution, still constitutes the Charter of the aims and objectives of the ILO. In 1946, the ILO became a specialized agency of the newly formed United Nations. And, in 1948, still during the period of Phelan’s leadership, the International Labour Conference adopted Convention No. 87 on freedom of association and the right to organize.

The Post-War Years
America’s David Morse was Director General from 1948-1970 when the number of Member States doubled, the Organization took on its universal character, industrialized countries became a minority among developing countries, the budget grew five-fold and the number of officials quadrupled. The ILO established the Geneva-based International Institute for Labour Studies in 1960 and the International Training Centre in Turin in 1965. The Organization won the Nobel Peace Prize on its 50th anniversary in 1969.

Under Britain’s Wilfred Jenks, Director-General from 1970-73, the ILO made advanced further in the development of standards and mechanisms for supervising their application, particularly the promotion of freedom of association and the right to organize.

His successor Francis Blanchard of France, expanded ILO’s technical cooperation with developing countries and averted damage to the Organization, despite the loss of one quarter of its budget following US withdrawal from 1977-1980. The ILO also played a major role in the emancipation of Poland from dictatorship, by giving its full support to the legitimacy of the Solidarnosc Union based on respect for Convention No. 87 on freedom of association, which Poland had ratified in 1957.

Belgium’s Michel Hansenne succeeded him in 1989 and guided the ILO into the post-Cold War period, emphasizing the importance of placing social justice at the heart of international economic and social policies. He also set the ILO on a course of decentralization of activities and resources away from the Geneva headquarters.

On 4 March 1999, Juan Somavia of Chile took over as Director General. He emphasized the importance of making decent work a strategic international goal and promoting a fair globalization. He also underlined work as an instrument of poverty alleviation and ILO’s role in helping to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, including cutting world poverty in half by 2015.

In May 2012 English’s Guy Ryder was elected as the tenth Director-General of the ILO. He began his five-year term in October 2012.