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Achieving the goal of decent work in the globalized economy requires action at the international level. The world community is responding to this challenge in part by developing international legal instruments on trade, finance, environment, human rights and labour. The ILO contributes to this legal framework by elaborating and promoting international labour standards aimed at making sure that economic growth and development go along with the creation of decent work. The ILO’s unique tripartite structure ensures that these standards are backed by governments, employers, and workers alike.
International labour standards therefore establish the basic minimum social standards agreed upon by all actors in the global economy, and set out basic principles and rights at work. They are either conventions, which are legally binding international treaties that may be ratified by Member States, or recommendations, which serve as non-binding guidelines.
The ILO has identified eight conventions as ‘fundamental’, covering subjects that are considered as fundamental principles and rights at work: freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining; the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour; the effective abolition of child labour; and the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation. The Fundamental Conventions are:
See the ILO website for additional information on relevants principles and rights at work as well as applying and promoting international labour standards.
The ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. View
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
The Right to Decent Work is largely based upon Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, stating: “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.” (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Paris 1948, art. 23)
The Employment Policy Convention (1964)
The Employment Policy Convention is a precursor to the Decent Work Agenda in its call for available and productive work that can be freely chosen and accessed by all, “irrespective of race, colour, sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin.” The Convention also promotes “economic growth and development, raising levels of living, meeting manpower requirements and overcoming unemployment and underemployment”, and policies to “pursue, as a major goal, an active policy designed to promote full, productive and freely chosen employment.” (Employment Policy Convention, Geneva 1964, art. 1)
Decent Work Agenda (2005)
The ILO Decent Work Agenda expands upon the challenges that the Organization faced at its inception in 1919, and aims to achieve in the present day by promoting Decent Work for all through social dialogue, social protection and employment creation, as well as respect for international labour standards. The Campaign on Decent Work was first conceived at the 2005 World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, and was formalised in 2007 by the European governments and institutions that signed the Call to Action of the Decent Work, Decent Life Campaign.
Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization (2008)
The Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization is a critical Declaration designed to strengthen the ILO’s capacity to promote its Decent Work Agenda and forge an effective response to the growing challenges of globalization. This is the third major statement of principles and policies adopted by the International Labour Conference since the ILO’s Constitution of 1919. It builds on the Philadelphia Declaration of 1944 and the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work of 1998. The 2008 Declaration expresses the contemporary vision of the ILO’s mandate in the era of globalization. The Declaration expresses the universality of the Decent Work Agenda: all Members of the Organization must pursue policies based on the strategic objectives – employment, social protection, social dialogue, and rights at work. At the same time, it stresses a holistic and integrated approach by recognizing that these objectives are “inseparable, interrelated and mutually supportive”, ensuring the role of international labour standards as a useful means of achieving all of them (ILO, 2009).
You can also find nearly 200 labour-related Conventions spanning from 1919-present at this ILO webpage.