The International Labour Organization's Role in Nationalizing the International Movement to Abolish Child Labor

By Ho, Junlin | Chicago Journal of International Law, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

The International Labour Organization's Role in Nationalizing the International Movement to Abolish Child Labor


Ho, Junlin, Chicago Journal of International Law


I. INTRODUCTION

Despite public support for ending the worst forms of child labor and increased awareness regarding the issue, child labor remains a global problem.1 Organizations such as the International Labour Organization ("ILO") have been attempting to address this problem by monitoring progress in various countries, collecting and publishing data on child labor, and providing technical assistance to help governments curtail child labor, particularly its worst forms.2 These additional strategies have only yielded slow progress. Observers have indicated that the main problem is the ILO's inability or unwillingness to impose enforcement measures on its members.3 Some have argued for creating a connection between world trade policies and labor standards-a trade-labor linkage-to resolve international labor violations, including the problem of child labor.4 Advocates of trade-labor linkage have argued for either a stronger enforcement mechanism within the ILO such as trade sanctions or the addition of a labor clause to the World Trade Organization ("WTO").5 Both arguments have failed, however, due to lack of support for such measures within the membership of the ILO and WTO.6

International law advocates often envision a powerful set of global laws supported by a system of enforcement that provides "teeth" to these laws. Much like the defenders of trade-labor linkage who argue for more concrete enforcement mechanisms, many international law proponents advocate the need for a strong international court system.7 Some thought the creation of the International Criminal Court ("ICC") represented the dawning of such a system, but the ICC has received only qualified support globally and in some cases, absolutely no support.8 Given the limited backing it has received, it is unlikely the ICC will become a strong independent international court. As the practical realities set in, one legal scholar has argued that the ICC should instead move toward becoming a hybrid court, or an international body that relies on "national authorities to enforce international criminal law."9 A hybrid court can be more functional since "[a] less hierarchical international criminal justice system that relies significantly on national governments is likely to be better informed by diverse perspectives, more acceptable to local populations, and more effective in accomplishing its ultimate goals."10

This hybrid court theory is equally salient when applied to the abolition of child labor. The WTO has explicitly rejected any sort of trade-labor linkage and there are doubts about the ILO's ability to implement such a regime given its desire to prevent states from withdrawing their membership in the ILO.11 Despite these enforcement issues, the ILO's tripartite structure, comprised of governments, employers, and worker groups, still allows it to effectively monitor child labor conditions and report on child labor violations.12 Given the difficulty of reaching a multilateral international consensus, this Development argues that-much like the theory of a decentralized, hybrid international court-concerned parties should pursue a trade-labor linkage to end child labor at a national level. Although countries have already begun to implement trade-labor linkage through unilateral trade preferences and bilateral trade agreements, the use of ILO international labor standards and reports in the trade-labor linkage evaluation process represents the critical component. This Development argues that the ILO is uniquely positioned to help in nationalizing the international movement to abolish child labor. The ILO's tripartite structure gives it access to current child labor conditions in all of its member states, which, in turn, allows for more comprehensive reporting. Its history, structure, and transparency legitimize the ILO, making its standards and reporting a critical part of creating and enforcing trade-labor linkage at the national level.

This Development introduces the concept of a decentralized trade-labor link based on ILO standards and reporting as an effective means for ending child labor. …

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