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The ILO and Social Responsibility. Pr. Sophie Robin-Olivier Ecole de droit de la Sorbonne Université Paris I. Overview. History and constitutional basis of the ILO ILO Missions ILO new challenges Free Trade and Social Justice Fair Globalization / Decent work. History.

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The ilo and social responsibility

The ILO and Social Responsibility

Pr. Sophie Robin-Olivier

Ecole de droit de la Sorbonne

Université Paris I


  • History and constitutional basis of the ILO

  • ILO Missions

  • ILO new challenges

    Free Trade and Social Justice

    FairGlobalization / Decentwork


1919: the ILO iscreated in the wake of World war I and the bolshevikrevolution

Basic ideas :

  • International cooperationisneeded to avoid national rivalry

  • Avoid the extension of the communistrevolution (linkedwithbadlabor conditions)

  • For socialist and Union leaders: the ILO is a way to establish an institutionallink for cross-bordersolidarity

Constitutional basis of the ilo
Constitutional basis of the ILO

  • Initially : chapter XIII of the treaty of Versailles establishing the League of Nations

    « Universal peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice… »

    The treaty itself requires improvement of labour conditions, including working time regulation, prevention of unemployment, an adequate living wage…


  • The League of Nations disappears at the end of the 1930’s

  • ILO becomes a separate entity, joined by the US in 1934

  • Ambitious program: elaboration of labor standards (working hours, child labor, health and safety, maritime workers…)

Post war period
Post warperiod

  • 1944: Philadelphia conference

    ILO becomes a UN agency

    Philadelphia Declaration of 1944 (incorporated in the ILO constitution) reaffirms the fondamental principles on which the organizationisbased

4 major principles
4 major principles

1- Labor is not a commodity

2- Freedom of expression and association are essential to sustainedprogress

3- Povertyanywhereconstitutes a danger to prosperityeverywhere

4- Promotion of commonwelfareis to beensured by concerted international efforts by representatives of workers, employers and governments on an equal basis (=> trilateral organisation)

Post war evolution
Post warevolution

Adoption of important conventions on freedom of association, right to organize, right to collective bargaining

1948: Convention 87

1949: Convention 98

Thesetexts have a higherstatus (constitutional)

All governments are supposed to respect them, even if theydid not ratifythem

1950 1980

Cold war

Various conventions are adopted


The ILO provides support to Unions in Poland, to workers in Latin American dictatorships, in South Africa…

1989 and beyond
1989 and beyond

  • Fall of the Berlin wall opens new frontiers

  • New problems also: globalization and the impact on workers’rights

  • 1995: social summit in Copenhagen

    Social Justice becomes a more central objective on the international agenda

Missions of the ilo
Missions of the ILO

1- Standard setting

2- Handling complaints

3- Technical assistance

1 standard setting
1- Standard setting

1) Conventions (189)

Need ratifications to bebinding (US ratified 14 conventions, France, 104)

The effect of ratification depends on national Constitutions

1 standard setting1
1-Standard setting

2) 1998 Declaration on Fundamentalprinciples and rightsatwork

« Core Labor Standards » Declaration

Obligation for all States to respect, promote and realize a series of (4) fundamentalrights

Core labor standards
Core Labor Standards

  • Freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining

  • The elimination of all forms of forcedlabor

  • The effective abolition of childlabor

  • The elimination of discriminations in employment and occupation

Enforcement of core labor standards
Enforcement of Core Labor Standards

  • Annual report by all countries on 1 of the 4 standards (cycle)

  • General report drawnfrom national reports by the Director General

    = strictlypromotionalfollow-upmecanism

2 complaint handling
2- Complaint handling

2 bodies:

- Committee on Freedom of Association (for conventions 87 & 98)

  • Committee of experts on the application of conventions and recommendations

    -> examines annual reports made by governments on ratification progress & application of ratified conventions

    -> receives complaints filed by one government against another (or complaints by a union or an employer) for violation of a convention

2 complaint handling1
2- Complaint handling

  • Basis: documentary information provided by complainants and respondinggovernment +

    Factfinding missions (rare)

  • Result: reports and recommendations

    indicatingwhether a state does or not violate the convention

    (no real decisions)

Lack of enforcement power
Lack of enforcement power ?

Is the ILO « toothless » ?


  • The ECtHR or other courts make use of ILO Conventions & expert committeesinterpretations

  • Art 33 of the ILO Constitution

    Afterexhausting all otherpossibilities to bring the violator in compliancewith ILO obligations « the governing body mayrecommend to the conferencesuch action as itmaydeemwise & expedient to securecompliance »


Impact of core labour standards
Impact of Core Labour Standards?

From hard to soft law ?

Revitalization or retreat?

DebatebetweenAlston, Maupain& Langille

Questions about the impact of CLS

  • A reference in tradeagreements & codes of conduct or otherprivate initiative?

  • A risk of watering-down more precise and strongernorms?

  • Interpretation?

  • Impact on the race to the bottom? Unfaircompetition?

3 technical assistance
3-Technical assistance

Support to member states to:

  • Draftlegislation

  • Train labour inspectors

  • Develop job placement services for unemployed

  • Find alternatives to child labour…

3 technical assistance1
3-Technical assistance


  • International program for the elimination of childlabor (IPEC)

    - US/Cambodiatrade agreement: ILO provides support for the laborside dimension of the trade agreement

Ilo new challenges
ILO new challenges

  • Free Trade and Social Justice

    The social clause debate

  • FairGlobalization / Decentwork

    « ILO declaration on social justice for a Fairglobalization » (2008)

    « Decentwork » initiative (2002)