The Future of ILO Standards

By Swepston, Lee | Monthly Labor Review, September 1994 | Go to article overview

The Future of ILO Standards

Swepston, Lee, Monthly Labor Review

The International Labor Organization (ILO), created in 1919 by the Treaty of Versailles, has as its agenda the maintenance of social peace and improvement of the situation of the world's workers. First among the organization's tools for achieving its aims are international labor standards. Often called the "International Labor Code," these standards have helped form the basis for many social and labor laws in most of the countries that have gained their independence since 1919--that is, most countries in the world.

The ILO's mission, as designed by its founders, was to parallel that of the League of Nations: the League was to keep the physical peace, the ILO was to keep the social peace by adopting standards that would improve the situation of workers. In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution and the fear that if action was not taken to relieve the inequalities and injustices suffered by workers around the world, the entire social order was threatened, ILO's goal seemed as ambitious as that of the League. The League did not survive, but the ILO has.

Many observers thus consider the ILO standards to have a long and illustrious past, but wonder if they have a similar future. This article looks at problems facing the ILO and offers some possible solutions.

75 years of standards

The "Declaration of Philadelphia" in 1944, which was a renewed statement of purpose, marked the beginning of the ILO's period of greatest creativity in the adoption of standards--1948 to 1964. During this time, the ILO addressed freedom of association, equal treatment, abolition of forced labor, minimum wages, treatment of indigenous and tribal peoples, and employment policies, among other issues. These standards (along with the Forced Labor Convention, adopted in 1930) have become fundamental to worldwide labor and human rights legislation. The ILO's body of standards has continued to develop since then.

There are now 175 ILO Conventions and 182 Recommendations setting forth labor standards. (See box on page 4 for explanation of Conventions and Recommendations.) The Conventions have received more than 6,000 ratifications, forming a huge "web" of international law and setting the social and labor agenda for most countries in the world. Today, the ILO provides standards on social security systems, protection against occupational hazards and disease, and regulation of working conditions and hours of work. However, not all ILO standards cover "workers' rights"; a significant number provide guidance for the establishment of labor istration and provide basic instructions for labor inspection and occupational safety and health systems. There also are special standards for occupational groups such as nurses, seafarers, and dockers. In short, ILO standards have provided inspiration for labor legislation worldwide--including that of emerging states of Africa and Asia--and are used as a point of reference for countries trying to change their social and labor systems (such as those in Eastern Europe and Latin America).

ILO standards are adopted in tripartite discussion among representatives of workers, employers, and government. This feature was a novel concept when it was first put forward, and is still unique in international affairs today. This tripartite system increases the likelihood that ILO standards will take into account the problems workers face, the capacity of employers to comply, and the possibilities that governments will adopt the regulatory and supervisory systems necessary to implement the standards on the national level. The ILO, like other international human rights bodies, has no "enforcement" procedure. (Enforcement cannot work in the international sphere, as no coercive means are available.) It relies on a system of regular reporting by government members before the annual session of its supervisory body.

More than 2,000 government reports are examined each year. They are sent to employers' and workers' roganizations in the country concerned, who have the right to comment (about 10 percent of the countries do so each year). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

The Future of ILO Standards


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.