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September 1994, Vol. 117, No. 9
The future of ILO standards
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 intentional 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 Lee Swepston is Chief of ILO's Equality of Rights 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 administration 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 world-wide - 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).
This excerpt is from an article published in the September 1994 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
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ILO labor statistics convention: U.S. accepts new obligations. June 1991.
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