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Small Flag of the United Nations ZP.svg International Labour Organization
Organisation internationale du Travail
Organización Internacional del Trabajo
ILO logo.svg
Org type UN agency
Acronyms ILO
Head Chile Juan Somavía
Status active
Established 1919
Headquarters Switzerland Geneva

The International Labour Organization (ILO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations that deals with labour issues. Its headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland. Its secretariat — the people who are employed by it throughout the world — is known as the International Labour Office. The organization received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1969.[1]



E. H. Greenwood, US Delegate and Harold B. Butler, Secretary-General, with secretarial staff of the first International Labour Conference in Washington, D.C., October-November 1919, in front of the Pan American Building.

The ILO was established as an agency of the League of Nations following the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I.



In 1919 a pioneering generation of scholars, social policy experts, and politicians designed an unprecedented international organizational framework for labour politics. The founding fathers of the ILO had made great strides in social thought and action before 1919. The core members all knew one another from earlier private professional and ideological networks, in which they exchanged knowledge, experiences, and ideas on social policy. Prewar 'epistemic communities,' such as the International Association for Labour Legislation (IALL), founded in 1900, and political networks, such as the Socialist Second International, were a decisive factor in the institutionalization of international labor politics. In the post-World War I euphoria, the idea of a 'makeable society' was an important catalyst behind the social engineering of the ILO architects. As a new discipline, international labor law became a useful instrument for putting social reforms into practice. The utopian ideals of the founding fathers - social justice and the right to decent work - were changed by diplomatic and political compromises made at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, showing the ILO's balance between idealism and pragmatism.[2]

Trade unions

Over the course of World War I, the international labor movement proposed a comprehensive program of protection for the working classes, conceived as compensation for labor's support of the war. This program was supposed to become an international agreement after the war. In 1919, politicians took it up in order to give social stability to the postwar order. However, the way in which the program was instituted disappointed the high expectations of trade unions. Politicians offered labor an institution that could be used, at best, to attempt to achieve trade-union demands. Despite open disappointment and sharp critique, however, the revived International Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), founded in 1913, quickly adapted itself to this mechanism. The IFTU increasingly oriented its international activities around the lobby work of the ILO.[3]

Post-war reconstruction and the protection of labour unions occupied the attention of many nations during and immediately after World War I. In Great Britain, the Whitley Commission, a subcommittee of the Reconstruction Commission, recommended in its July 1918 Final Report that "industrial councils" be established throughout the world.[4] The British Labour Party had issued its own reconstruction programme in the document titled Labour and the New Social Order.[5] In February 1918, the third Inter-Allied Labour and Socialist Conference (representing delegates from Great Britain, France, Belgium and Italy) issued its report, advocating an international labour rights body, an end to secret diplomacy, and other goals.[6] And in December 1918, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) issued its own distinctively apolitical report, which called for the achievement of numerous incremental improvements via the collective bargaining process.[7]

As the war drew to a close, two competing visions for the post-war world emerged. The first was offered by the International Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), which called for a meeting in Berne in July 1919. The Berne meeting would consider both the future of the IFTU and the various proposals which had been made in the previous few years. The IFTU also proposed including delegates from the Central Powers as equals. Samuel Gompers, president of the AFL, boycotted the meeting, wanting the Central Powers delegates in a subservient role as an admission of guilt for their countries' role in the bringing about war. Instead, Gompers favored a meeting in Paris which would only consider President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points as a platform. Despite the American boycott, the Berne meeting went ahead as scheduled. In its final report, the Berne Conference demanded an end to wage labour and the establishment of socialism. If these ends could not be immediately achieved, then an international body attached to the League of Nations should enact and enforce legislation to protect workers and trade unions.[7]

Meanwhile, the Paris Peace Conference sought to dampen public support for communism. Subsequently, the Allied Powers agreed that clauses should be inserted into the emerging peace treaty protecting labour unions and workers' rights, and that an international labour body be established to help guide international labour relations in the future. The advisory Commission on International Labour Legislation was established by the Peace Conference to draft these proposals. The Commission met for the first time on 1 February 1919, and Gompers was elected chairman.[7]

Two competing proposals for an international body emerged during the Commission's meetings. The British proposed establishing an international parliament to enact labour laws which each member of the League would be required to implement. Each nation would have two delegates to the parliament, one each from labour and management. An international labour office would collect statistics on labour issues and enforce the new international laws. Philosophically opposed to the concept of an international parliament and convinced that international standards would lower the few protections achieved in the United States, Gompers proposed that the international labour body be authorized only to make recommendations, and that enforcement be left up to the League of Nations. Despite vigorous opposition from the British, the American proposal was adopted.[7]

Gompers also set the agenda for the draft charter protecting workers' rights. The Americans made 10 proposals. Three were adopted without change: That labour should not be treated as a commodity; that all workers had the right to a wage sufficient to live on; and that women should receive equal pay for equal work. A proposal protecting the freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association was amended to include only freedom of association. A proposed ban on the international shipment of goods made by children under the age of 16 was amended to ban goods made by children under the age of 14. A proposal to require an eight-hour work day was amended to require the eight-hour work day or the 40-hour work week (an exception was made for countries where productivity was low). Four other American proposals were rejected. Meanwhile, international delegates proposed three additional clauses, which were adopted: One or more days for weekly rest; equality of laws for foreign workers; and regular and frequent inspection of factory conditions.[7]

The Commission issued its final report on 4 March 1919, and the Peace Conference adopted it without amendment on 11 April. The report became Part XIII of the Treaty of Versailles.[7]

The first annual conference (referred to as the International Labour Conference, or ILC) began on 29 October 1919 in Washington DC and adopted the first six International Labour Conventions, which dealt with hours of work in industry, unemployment, maternity protection, night work for women, minimum age and night work for young persons in industry.[8] The prominent French socialist Albert Thomas became its first Director General. The ILO became a member of the United Nations system after the demise of the League in 1946. Its constitution, as amended, includes the Declaration of Philadelphia (1944) on the aims and purposes of the organisation. As of April 2009, the current director-general is Juan Somavia (since 1999).


Unlike other United Nations specialised agencies, the International Labour Organization has a tripartite governing structure — representing governments, employers and workers.[9]

Governing body

Today the Governing Body is the executive of the International Labour Office. It meets three times a year, in March, June and November. It takes decisions on ILO policy, decides the agenda of the International Labour Conference, adopts the draft programme and budget of the organisation for submission to the conference, and elects the director-general.

The Governing Body is composed of 28 government representatives, 14 workers' group representatives, and 14 employers' group representatives. Ten of the government seats are held permanently by Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The remaining government representatives are elected by government delegates every three years.[10]

International Labour Conference

The ILO organises the International Labour Conference in Geneva every year in June, where conventions and recommendations are crafted and adopted. The conference also makes decisions on the ILO's general policy, work programme and budget.

Each member state is represented at the conference by four people: two government delegates, an employer delegate and a worker delegate. All of them have individual voting rights, and all votes are equal, regardless of the population of the delegate's member state. The employer and worker delegates are normally chosen in agreement with the "most representative" national organizations of employers and workers. Usually, the workers' delegates coordinate their voting, as do the employers' delegates.[citation needed]

International Labour Code

One of the principal functions of the ILO is setting international labour standards through the adoption of conventions and recommendations covering a broad spectrum of labour-related subjects and which, together, are sometimes referred to as the International Labour Code. The topics covered include a wide range of issues, from freedom of association to health and safety at work, working conditions in the maritime sector, night work, discrimination, child labour, and forced labour. The term "code" is somewhat a misnomer insofar as adoption of new standards and revision of old ones has not resulted in an entirely integrated and homogeneous body of law. This is not the case. Nevertheless, the broad scope of the subjects covered by the ILO's standards suggests that the term "code" would be appropriate to use.



Adoption of a convention by the International Labour Conference allows governments to ratify it, and the convention then becomes a treaty in international law when a specified number of governments have done so. But all adopted ILO conventions are considered international labour standards regardless of how many governments have ratified them.


The coming into force of a convention results in a legal obligation to apply its provisions by the nations that have ratified it. Ratification of a convention is voluntary. Conventions that have not been ratified by member states have the same legal force as do recommendations. Governments are required to submit reports detailing their compliance with the obligations of the conventions they have ratified. Every year the International Labour Conference's Committee on the Application of Standards examines a number of alleged breaches of international labour standards. In recent years, one of the member states that has received the most attention is Myanmar / Burma, as the country has repeatedly been criticised for its failure to protect its citizens against forced labour exacted by the army.[citation needed]

1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work

In 1998 the 86th International Labour Conference adopted the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. This declaration identified four "principles" as "core" or "fundamental", asserting that all ILO member States on the basis of existing obligations as members in the Organization have an obligation to work towards fully respecting the principles embodied in the relevant (ratifiable) ILO Conventions. The fundamental rights concern freedom of association and collective bargaining, discrimination, forced labour, and child labour. The ILO Conventions which embody the fundamental principles have now been ratified by the overwhelming majority of ILO member states, not least because of the declaration's denomination of the principles they contain as "fundamental".[11]

Criticism of the establishment of core or fundamental labour standards

Despite the rapid ratification by many countries of the eight conventions whose principles have been identified as fundamental, a number of academics and activists have criticised the ILO for creating a "false division" between different international labour standards, many of which cover specific and concrete human rights topics but were excluded from the 1998 declaration, such as those on health and safety and working hours. To add further confusion, the new core conventions are often exclusively referred to as being human rights, whereas before all international labour standards were viewed as human rights. Philip Alston, John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law at New York University, has written on this "narrowing" of international labour standards in the name of human rights advocacy.[citation needed]

This criticism must however be seen in the light of the historical background of the declaration and the ten year period leading up to its adoption. For many years, the Governing Body of the ILO had categorized the body of international labour standard conventions and recommendations. This categorization was largely—and continues largely to be—of a technical nature, rather than a prioritization, i.e. some standards are more important than others. With the fall of the communism in the late 1980s perception of a need to prioritize standards grew, the view in some groups being that globalization would truly put pressure on real labour standards and the Organization truly needed now to take its mandate to improve them to heart. The view was held also in the light of the patchy ratification of some standards' areas; although there were significant numbers of ratifications, there were also many ILO conventions which did not attract large numbers of ratifications, and these included instruments that many would see to be of very great importance. The drive to come to a consensus on what the high priority standards would be, how they would be enunciated as such, and what mechanisms would be used to either enforce or promote them was a difficult one within the ILO, with workers', employers' and government groups taking different positions.

These views were debated in the work of the ILO's Governing Body on the Social Dimensions of International Trade (latter called the Working Party on the Social Dimensions of Globalization) during the period. There were also significant splits along developing and industrialized country lines. The significant first important consensus was reflected in the UN's World Social Summit held in Copenhagen in March, 1995. Commitment 3(i) of the closing Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development, Part C: Commitments, identified the 4 subject areas that were to be repeated in 1998 inside the ILO's Declaration. It is in this context that the criticism of the ILO Declaration has to be assessed. In the event, there is now almost universal ratification of the relevant 8 ILO Conventions, thereby bringing regular international supervision to bear on their implementation. Importantly, a number of important countries—in terms of economic strength and sizable working populations—continue to be non-ratifiers of important conventions. An important question applies to them in terms of the obligations under the declaration. Probably this is the most common on the world, and their effects are henormous.


Recommendations do not have the binding force of conventions and are not subject to ratification by member countries. Recommendations may be adopted at the same time as conventions to supplement the latter with additional or more detailed provisions. In other cases recommendations may be adopted separately and may address issues not covered by, or unrelated to any particular convention.[citation needed]

Child labour

The term "child labour" is often defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.

It refers to work that:

  • is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and
  • interferes with their schooling by:
  • depriving them of the opportunity to attend school;
  • obliging them to leave school prematurely; or
  • requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.

In its most extreme forms, child labour involves children being enslaved, separated from their families, exposed to serious hazards and illnesses and/or left to fend for themselves on the streets of large cities – often at a very early age. Whether or not particular forms of "work" can be called "child labour" depends on the child's age, the type and hours of work performed, the conditions under which it is performed and the objectives pursued by individual countries. The answer varies from country to country, as well as among sectors within countries.

Not all work done by children should be classified as child labour that is to be targeted for elimination. Children’s or adolescents’ participation in work that does not affect their health and personal development or interfere with their schooling, is generally regarded as being something positive. This includes activities such as helping their parents around the home, assisting in a family business or earning pocket money outside school hours and during school holidays. These kinds of activities contribute to children’s development and to the welfare of their families; they provide them with skills and experience, and help to prepare them to be productive members of society during their adult life.

ILO’s response to child labour

The ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) was created in 1992 with the overall goal of the progressive elimination of child labour, which was to be achieved through strengthening the capacity of countries to deal with the problem and promoting a worldwide movement to combat child labour. IPEC currently has operations in 88 countries, with an annual expenditure on technical cooperation projects that reached over US$74 million in 2006. It is the largest programme of its kind globally and the biggest single operational programme of the ILO.

The number and range of IPEC’s partners have expanded over the years and now include employers’ and workers’ organizations, other international and government agencies, private businesses, community-based organizations, NGOs, the media, parliamentarians, the judiciary, universities, religious groups and, of course, children and their families.

IPEC's work to eliminate child labour is an important facet of the ILO's Decent Work Agenda.[12] Child labour not only prevents children from acquiring the skills and education they need for a better future, it also perpetuates poverty and affects national economies through losses in competitiveness, productivity and potential income. Withdrawing children from child labour, providing them with education and assisting their families with training and employment opportunities contribute directly to creating decent work for adults.

Forced labour

The ILO has always considered the fight against forced labor to be one of its main priorities. During the interwar years, the issue was mainly considered a colonial phenomenon, and the ILO's concern was to establish minimum standards protecting the inhabitants of colonies from the worst abuses committed by economic interests. After 1945, the goal became to set a uniform and universal standard, determined by the higher awareness gained during World War II of politically and economically motivated systems of forced labor, but debates were hampered by the Cold War and by exemptions claimed by colonial powers. Since the 1960s, declarations of labour standards as a component of human rights have been weakened by government of postcolonial countries claiming a need to exercise extraordinary powers over labor in their role as emergency regimes promoting rapid economic development.[13]

In June 1998 the International Labour Conference adopted a Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its Follow-up that obligates member States to respect, promote and realize freedom of association and 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.

With the adoption of the Declaration, the ILO created the InFocus Programme on Promoting the Declaration which is responsible for the reporting processes and technical cooperation activities associated with the Declaration; and it carries out awareness raising, advocacy and knowledge functions.

In November 2001, following the publication of the InFocus Programme's first Global Report on forced labour, the ILO Governing Body created a Special Action Programme to Combat Forced Labour (SAP-FL), as part of broader efforts to promote the 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its Follow-up.

Since its inception, SAP-FL has focused on raising global awareness of forced labour in its different forms, and mobilising action against its manifestation. Several thematic and country-specific studies and surveys have since been undertaken, on such diverse aspects of forced labour as bonded labour, human trafficking, forced domestic work, rural servitude, and forced prison labour.


Under the name ILOAIDS, the ILO created the Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS and the World of Work as a document providing principles for "policy development and practical guidelines for programmes at enterprise, community, and national levels." Including:[14]

  • prevention of HIV
  • management and mitigation of the impact of AIDS on the world of work
  • care and support of workers infected and affected by HIV/AIDS
  • elimination of stigma and discrimination on the basis of real or perceived HIV status.

Indigenous peoples

ILO-Convention 169 concerns indigenous and tribal peoples in independent countries. It was adopted on 27 June 1989 by the General Conference of the ILO at its 76th session. Its entry into force was 5 September 1991.[15] [16]


Membership is limited to nation-states, including all who were members on 1 November 1945, when the organisation's new constitution came into effect. In addition, any original member of the United Nations and any state admitted thereafter may also join. Other states can be admitted by a super-majority vote of any ILO General Conference. ILO Constitution

There are 182 members of the ILO.

See also

Further reading

  • Alcock, A. History of the International Labour Organization (London, 1971)
  • Chisholm, A. Labour's Magna Charta: A Critical Study of the Labour Clauses of the Peace Treaty and of the Draft Conventions and Recommendations of the Washington International Labour Conference (London, 1925)
  • Dufty, N.F. "Organizational Growth and Goal Structure: The Case of the ILO," International Organization 1972 Vol. 26, pp 479-498 in JSTOR
  • Endres, A.; Fleming, G. International Organizations and the Analysis of Economic Policy, 1919-1950 (Cambridge, 2002)
  • Evans, A.A. My Life as an International Civil Servant in the International Labour Organization (Geneva, 1995)
  • Ewing, K. Britain and the ILO (London, 1994)
  • Fried, John H. E. "Relations Between the United Nations and the International Labor Organization," American Political Science Review, Vol. 41, No. 5 (Oct., 1947), pp. 963-977 in JSTOR
  • Galenson, Walter. The International Labor Organization: An American View (Madison, 1981)
  • Heldal, H. "Norway in the International Labour Organization, 1919-1939" Scandinavian Journal of History 1996 Vol. 21, pp 255-283,
  • Imber, M.F. The USA, ILO, UNESCO and IAEA: politicization and withdrawal in the Specialized Agencies (1989)
  • Johnston, G.A. The International Labour Organization: Its Work for Social and Economic Progress (London, 1970)
  • Mainwaring, J. International Labour Organization: A Canadian View (Ottawa, 1986)
  • Morse, D. The Origin and Evolution of the ILO and its Role in the World Community (Ithaca, 1969)
  • Ostrower, Gary B. "The American decision to join the international labor organization, Labor History, Volume 16, Issue 4 Autumn 1975, pp 495-504 The U.S. joined in 1934
  • Schlossberg, S. "United States' Participation in the International Labour Organization: Redefining the Role," Comparative Labor Law Journal 1989, Vol. 11, pp 48-80
  • VanDaele, Jasmien. "Engineering Social Peace: Networks, Ideas, And the Founding of the International Labour Organization," International Review of Social History 2005 50(3): 435-466
  • VanDaele, Jasmien. "The International Labour Organization (ILO) In Past and Present Research," International Review of Social History 2008 53(3): 485-511, historiography


  1. ^ "The Nobel Peace Prize 1969". Retrieved 2006-07-05. 
  2. ^ VanDaele, (2005)
  3. ^ Reiner Tosstorff, "The International Trade-Union Movement and the Founding of the International Labour Organization," International Review of Social History 2005 50(3): 399-433
  4. ^ Haimson, Leopold H. and Sapelli, Giulio. Strikes, Social Conflict, and the First World War: An International Perspective. Milan: Fondazione Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, 1992. ISBN 8807990474
  5. ^ Shapiro, Stanley. "The Passage of Power: Labor and the New Social Order." Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 120:6 (29 December 1976).
  6. ^ Ayusawa, Iwao Frederick. International Labor Legislation. Clark, N.J.: Lawbook Exchange, 2005. ISBN 1584774614
  7. ^ a b c d e f Foner, Philip S. History of the Labor Movement in the United States. Vol. 7: Labor and World War I, 1914-1918. New York: International Publishers, 1987. ISBN 0717806383
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ See Article 7 of the ILO's constitution at
  11. ^ See the list of ratifications at
  12. ^
  13. ^ Daniel Roger Maul, "The International Labour Organization and the Struggle against Forced Labour from 1919 to the Present," Labor History 2007 48(4): 477-500
  14. ^ "The ILO Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS and the world of work". ILOAIDS. Retrieved 2006-07-05. 
  15. ^
  16. ^

Links to the official ILO Web site

Other links

The ILO 90th Anniversary is in a Global Website:

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

"INTERNATIONAL LABOUR ORGANIZATION. - An important part of the scheme for a League of Nations embodied in the Peace Treaty of Versailles in 1919 involved the creation of a new International Labour Organization. The Labour part of the Treaty (Part VIII.) rested on the principle laid down in its preamble that there can be no social peace which is not based on social justice. It represented the aspiration which moved all classes to carry over into peace the community of sentiment a.nd of action which had held them together during the dark hours of the World War.

Aiming therefore at the promotion of social peace, the International Labour Organization was founded on two main beliefs - the belief that there must be international cooperation in the industrial sphere, if suicidal competition, leading to much human misery, and perhaps to fresh wars, was to be avoided, and the belief that such cooperation must be based on the collaboration between the State, Capital and Labour. The organization was therefore to consist of all the states forming the League of Nations, who were to meet annually in conference and draw up international agreements for regulating and improving industrial conditions. By raising the standard of living and the lot of the 'v. " The Gas Turbine," Holzwarth & Chalkley (Griffin 1913). 2 V. The Times " Engineering Supplement," May 1921.

worker everywhere, the worst evils of commercial rivalry, and the penalty which it had hitherto imposed on progressive social legislation, could be gradually removed. This could only be done by international agreements having the force of treaties. Under the provisions of Article 405 of the.Treaty these agreements are cast in the form of " draft conventions " and " recommendations," which each State is bound to lay before its legislative or other authorities within a maximum period of eighteen months. Special provision is made to meet the case of federal constitutions, such as those of Canada, Australia and the United States, where labour legislation is not within the competence of the federal authority, but is a matter for the individual states or provinces. There were some who took part in the Paris negotiations and who wished to go further. They advocated that the Conference should be vested with the powers of a super-parliament, whose decisions should be immediately binding; but finally the more modest proposal of the British delegation, who put forward the scheme, was adopted, and it was left to the sovereign power in each state to accept or reject the proposals adopted by the conference. The constitution as defined by the Treaty provides therefore that the final decision rests with the government or parliament of each country. Once its approval is given to a. draft convention, the formal ratification is conveyed to the 'secretary-general of the League, and the enforcement of its provisions becomes a treaty obligation.

This procedure is, apart from the imposition of a time-limit, not essentially different from the usual procedure followed by diplomatic conferences before the war, but when the composition of the International Labour Conference is considered, several marked departures from precedent will be observed. In the past governments alone took part in international discussions which were to result in creating international obligations. This meant that the delegates were tied down to carrying out their official instructions, and that mutual concession must be carried to the point where virtual unanimity was reached, if any practical consequences were to follow. The constitution of the International Labour Conference broke away from the diplomatic tradition. It provided for four delegates from each country, two only representing the government, the other two being chosen in agreement with the most representative organizations of employers and of workers in each country. The reason for this innovation is not far to seek. In discussing labour problems it is impossible to ignore the great employers' associations and trade unions, which are primarily interested and which are the controlling factors in modern industry. Once unofficial delegates were admitted, it followed as a necessary corollary that each national delegation could not be expected to act as a whole, but that its members must be free to speak and vote as they pleased. Hence it was no longer possible to look for unanimity, and it was accordingly provided that a draft convention or recommendation must be carried by a two-thirds majority, but that once so carried, its consideration (though not its adoption) became obligatory on the governments, whether their representatives had voted for it or not. By this means international public opinion could exert its influence even in countries which might be unwilling to accept the standards of the majority.

One further point requires brief notice. During the original discussions in Paris there was considerable division of Opinion on the question whether the governments should have one vote or two. It was argued from the Labour point of view that the double vote would place the workers in a hopeless minority, and reduce them to impotence against the three votes exercised by the governments and the employers. On the other side, it was pointed out that not only was it probable that the official delegates would be as often on the side of the workers as on that of the employers, but that on the equal voting system the latter would with the assistance of a single government be able to block any proposal. Moreover, unless the majority of the governments accepted a draft convention, there was small likelihood of its being ratified, and this in itself justified their larger voting power. The subsequent experience of the Washington and Genoa conferences may be held to have justified these contentions.

Supposing then that a convention has been duly ratified by a number of states, what guarantee is there that it will be enforced? Clearly unequal enforcement would largely destroy its value, and would penalise the countries which had acted up to their obligations. To meet this contingency the Treaty provided that where a state failed to carry out its obligations after having its attention drawn to the matter, the governing body of the International Labour Office might, if it saw fit, appoint a commission of inquiry. If the commission's report was unfavourable and the state in question still refused to remove the cause of complaint, the matter could be referred to the Permanent Court of International Justice, who would issue a final judgment and might suggest the adoption of the appropriate economic penalties against the defaulting country. In practice it may be held highly improbable that it would ever be necessary to go to such lengths, but this attempt to provide an effective sanction for international engagements is not without interest.

Table of contents

Washington Conference, 191-Q

The first International Labour Conference was held in Washington in Oct. 1919 as fixed by the Treaty. The fact of President Wilson's illness and of the failure of the United States to ratify the Treaty clouded the atmosphere. Moreover, the prevailing industrial strife in America did not make a favourable setting for the first attempt at cooperation between Capital, Labour and the governments on an international scale. Nevertheless, 123 delegates, drawn from 39 countries, assembled: 73 representing governments, 25 the employers and 25 the workers. They were accompanied by about 150 advisers, a good proportion of whom were women. The conference sat for a month and, once it had found its feet, worked with astonishing purpose and enthusiasm. It dispersed with the feeling that its work had not been in vain. Six draft conventions and six recommendations had been adopted by the necessary two-thirds majority, most of them almost unanimously. It must suffice here to enumerate them, calling attention to one or two points of s p ecial interest. The first draft convention provided for the 8-hour day and the 48-hour week in industrial undertakings, with a number of modifications and exceptions which are indispensable to meet the special needs of particular industries or particular countries. Particularly notable were the articles dealing with Japan and India, which, though not bringing them up to the western standard at one bound, contain very considerable reductions in the hours of labour hitherto permitted in those countries. Further draft conventions provided for the establishment of employment exchanges and other measures for combating unemployment, for the prohibition of the industrial employment of children under 14, for the assistance of women in industry before and after childbirth, and for the prohibition of the employment of women and young persons at night. In addition, recommendations were adopted dealing with the treatment of emigrants, the establishment of medical inspection of factories, the prevention of anthrax and lead poisoning, etc.

These results of a Month's work on the part of such a heterogeneous and polyglot assembly meeting for the first time were certainly noteworthy. They were not reached without a great deal of keen discussion. Employers and workers stated their views with freedom and force, but at the same time with restraint, and not infrequently it was the r61e of the government delegates to construct a bridge between them. But for all the differences of standpoint, mentality, language and interest, which made the conference such a fascinating microcosm, there was a spirit of good-will and a general common-sense, which enabled it to arrive at solid and workmanlike agreements. The foundation was laid for a real system of international labour legislation immeasurably in advance of anything which had been contemplated before the war. The pioneer work of the International Association for Labour Legislation, which succeeded in bringing together an official conference at Berne in 1906, resulting in a convention for the prohibition of the use of white phosphorus in matches, found its consummation at Washington in 1919, when the beginnings were made of a comprehensive international labour code.

The Washington conference completed its work by laying the foundations of the International Labour Office, the other branch of the permanent organization. The conference elected the governing body, which under the Treaty is charged with the control of the office, and which consists of 24 members. Of these 12 are appointed by governments, eight by those of the eight states of chief industrial importance, the remaining four being selected by the government delegates of the conference. There was some contention as to which were the eight chief industrial states, but finally, under protest from India, the following list was accepted: - the United States, Great Britain, France, Italy, Germany,' Japan, Belgium and Switzerland. As the first named had not ratified the Treaty, and was therefore not a member of the organization, a fifth place was provisionally thrown open for election, and the following countries were 'Germany and Austria were admitted to the organization at one of.the first sitt ngs by 71 votes to I.

chosen to complete the number: - Spain, Argentina, Canada, Poland and Denmark. In addition to the government members, six employers' and six workers' representatives were chosen by the employers' and workers' groups, which guided their selection by the industrial importance of the organizations which they contained rather than by considerations of nationality. The result was somewhat ill-balanced, as 20 out of the 24 members were from Europe, though the equilibrium would have been better preserved had America been able to fill the three places allotted to her. The conference felt the position to be unsatisfactory and passed' a resolution in this sense, which led to the reconsideration of the constitution of the governing body.

When elected, the governing body proceeded to appoint the first director of the International Labour Office in the person of M. Albert Thomas, the French Socialist leader, who had created the French Ministry of Munitions during the war, a man of great energy, capacity and enthusiasm. He quickly set to work, and the office took up its quarters in London in Jan. 1920. Its functions as defined by the Treaty fall into two broad divisions. On the one hand, it carries out all the preparatory and complementary work connected with the conference. It prepares the agenda, presents a report on each item containing all the information available on the subject, it performs the secretarial duties, and conducts all the correspondence arising in connexion with the ratification, interpretation and enforcement of the conventions and recommendationsadopted. It also undertakes any inquiries which the conference may order. These may be termed the diplomatic functions of the office, which are performed by one of its main branches known as the "diplomatic division." The other main branch is the "scientific-division," which, as its name implies, is engaged in the work of investigation and research. The Treaty imposes upon the office " the collation and distribution of information on all subjects relating to the international adjustment of conditions of industrial life and labour," together with the publication in French and English of " a periodical paper dealing with problems of industry and employment of international interest." It is easy to see how huge a field the office is thus expected to cover. There are few, if any, industrial problems which have not their international bearing. If the war and' the economic chaos resulting from it had brought home one truth to the world, it was that economically all the nations are to a greater or lesser degree interdependent. And when the importance of labour as an element in production, whether industrial or agricultural, is considered, it may readily be seen that almost all labour problems have their international aspect. It is unnecessary to insist upon a point which is demonstrated on the one side by the tendency of capital to create amalgamations and working agreements, which take no account of national frontiers, and on the other by the movement of the trade unions in almost every important industry, including agriculture, towards the formation of international federations for the protection of their interests,. Neither international strikes nor international collective agreements are outside the realm of practical politics.

Genoa Conference, 1920

The first big task of the International Labour Office was the preparation of the second annual conference, which was held at Genoa in June 1920. It was exclusively concerned with the conditions of employment at sea. Of all industries the shipping industry is the most essentially international, and of all callings the seaman's has perhaps received the least attention from the social legislator. The Genoa conference was more specialist in character than its predecessor, and its results necessarily less impressive, because they were less universal in their scope. Nevertheless, they are likely to produce considerable practical improvements in the sailor's lot. The conference adopted three draft conventions. The first suppresses the " crimp," who made his Iiving by fleecing the seaman under the pretext of finding him employment. The convention requires the abolition of all private employment agencies carried on for purposes of gain, or where they are allowed to continue temporarily, their supervision by the government. Moreover, each government undertakes to establish free public employment agencies conducted either by the State or by the joint effort of shipowners and seamen. The second convention provides for the payment to seamen of compensation for unemployment in the event of the loss of their vessel. Finally, a third convention prohibits the employment of boys under 14 on board ship. In addition to these conventions, recommendations were adopted in favour of unemployment insurance for seamen, and in favour of the establishment of national maritime codes. This last measure was regarded as the prelude to the drafting of an international code, which would enable sailors of all countries to serve under uniform conditions, under whatever flag they sailed. The International Labour Office was in 1921 engaged in collecting the material on which the joint maritime commission appointed by the conference might begin the work of framing such a code for submission to a future conference. Finally, two further recommendations were passed dealing with the hours of work on fishing vessels and in inland navigation, but on the difficult question of hours of work in seagoing ships, the conference failed to reach agreement. There were long and vigorous debates on this subject, the main point at issue being whether the French system of a 48-hour week with unlimited overtime compensated either by extra wages or by time off in port, or the British Government's proposal of a 56-hour week on deck and 48 in the engine-room, should be adopted. The former failed to obtain the necessary two-thirds majority by a fraction, but as several of the most important seafaring countries were in the minority, including Great Britain, Japan, Norway and Spain, the convention would probably not have been generally applied, had it been actually passed. The sequel, however, showed that legislation is not the only method by which the International Labour Organization can assist in promoting industrial peace.

Shortly after the dispersal of the conference the International Seamen's Federation held a congress at which the results were discussed. A good deal of dissatisfaction was expressed at the failure to obtain any reduction of hours, and a resolution in favour of an international seamen's strike was moved. The loss, suffering and dislocation which such a strike would have caused, however short its duration, require no emphasis. An amendment was eventually carried, however, inviting the director of the International Labour Office to intervene with a view to securing a conference with the International Shipowners' Association, at which the matter could be reopened on a purely industrial basis. The shipowners agreed to the meeting which took place at Brussels in Jan. 1921 under the presidency of M. Albert Thomas. Two joint committees were appointed to examine in detail the revision of hours of work in the engine-room and on deck respectively. An excellent spirit was shown on both sides, with the result that it is proposed to make practical experiments on selected ships to test the new system of hours proposed, which may well pave the way to the first international collective agreement. Such an agreement would undoubtedly mark an important landmark in industrial history.

International Labour Office

As regards the development of the International Labour Office itself, its early months were largely occupied in recruiting and training the staff necessary to carry out its numerous duties. They were gradually drawn together from different countries, and in spite of the variety of language and tradition had at the end of six months attained a degree of unity and cohesion, which enabled the work of the office to reach a very reasonable standard of efficiency and its publication to commence. To the diplomatic and scientific divisions a number of small technical sections were attached, manned by specialists in the problems they were appointed to handle. These sections dealt with unemployment and emigration, agricultural questions, seamen's questions, industrial health, social insurance, including the rehabilitation of men disabled in industry or in war, and cooperation. A further special section was formed to study the social aspects of the Russian revolution in consequence of a decision of the governing body to send a mixed commission of inquiry to ascertain the industrial conditions under the Soviet regime. Owing to the refusal of the Bolshevik Government to admit them, the commission never carried out their mission, but the Russian section which had been formed to prepare the way for their inquiry succeeded in collecting a great deal of first-hand evidence, which had not been previously got together. The section made a scientific analysis of the data thus obtained, and produced the first attempt to give an objective account of the Bolshevik industrial system under the title of " Labour Conditions in Soviet Russia." Finally a small section was formed to carry out the inquiry into production, which was decided upon by the governing body on the motion of the employers' representatives. The object of this inquiry was to ascertain, if possible, how far the diminution of production was due to the shortening of hours of work, the physical and moral exhaustion produced by the war, or to other causes affecting the output of the individual worker, or how far it was due to deeper economic causes produced by the generally chaotic conditions in which the war had left the machinery for the production and exchange of goods all over the world. To attempt to obtain a clear view of a subject of such complexity was in itself a vast undertaking, but in response to the questionnaire which was sent out in twelve languages to the governments, employers' organizations and the trade unions, a great deal of valuable information about the conditions affecting production in all countries had already been obtained in 1921.

After six months' work in London, the Office was transferred to Switzerland. The Treaty required it to be established at the seat of the League of Nations, and though the secretariat of the League was still in London, the governing body decided for reasons of convenience to transfer the office somewhat earlier to Geneva, which was designated as the future home of the League. Consequently in July 1920, immediately after the close of the Genoa conference, the International Labour Office settled down in its new quarters. After three months' breathing space, it was called upon to take its part in the work of the first assembly of the League. The constitutional relationship between the Labour Organization and the League was generally defined in the Treaty, though some points were not free from ambiguity. The International Labour Office is " part of the organization of the League " and is " entitled to the assistance of the secretary-general in any matter in which it can be given "; but it is not subject to the control of the council of the League, nor is the Labour Organization as a whole in any way dependent upon or subordinated to the assembly, except in the important matter of finance. Unlike the other technical organizations of the League, such as the health or transit organizations, the Labour Organization does not submit its decisions to the council for approval and its agenda are settled not by the council but by its own governing body. Save in the matter of finance, it is an autonomous body attached to the League by ties of common interest rather than by constitutional bonds; in fact, it is a sort of self-governing dominion. The financial link is, however, naturally one of great importance, since money questions are not less vital in international than in national affairs. Hence when the budget of the League was considered by the assembly, the finances of the Labour Organization, which form part of it, also came under review.

As the taxpayer is acutely interested in all public expenditure, it may be interesting to give a rough idea of the cost of the International Labour Office. Its estimates, which were voted by the Assembly for 1921, amounted to 7 million gold francs, which may be taken as approximately equivalent to £350,000. This total is contributed by the 48 States Members of the League, Great Britain as a first-class State paying about £16,000. If these figures are compared with the cost of an average civil department in England, it will be seen that they are exceedingly modest, and it has to be remembered that they include a great many items which do not enter into the estimates of government departments, such as rent, repairs, postage, telegrams, stationery, printing, etc. Again, the conduct of correspondence and publication on a considerable scale in two or more languages more than doubles the effort of the staff, and consequently the cost, which would be entailed if only one language were employed. In order to insure that the utmost economy was being practised, however, and to advise as to the conditions of service, the assembly resolved that a committee of experts should be appointed to inquire into the organization of the secretariat and of the Inter national Labour Office.

At the beginning of 1921 the Office consisted of 95 men and 115 women drawn from 17 different countries. It could deal with every language, except Chinese, in which books bearing upon industrial questions are published. Its library consisted of about 30,000 volumes, mostly purchased from the International Association for Labour Legislation, who had formed at Basle an unique collection of literature on labour and economic questions. The demands made on the office for information by governments and employers' and work. ers' organizations were growing steadily, and were requiring a constantly widening range of knowledge. A general idea of its work on the scientific side may best be gained by enumerating its publications. Every day it issues a small pamphlet entitled Daily Intelligence, which gives information about important events connected with labour and industry, which are not usually available to the reader of the daily press. Every week it issues an Official Bulletin, which reports the sittings of the governing body, records the progress of the ratification of the conventions and of the legislation for giving effect to them, and reproduces any important official correspondence. It is, in fact, the official organ of the International Labour Organization. Every month the office publishes the International Labour Review, which consists partly of studies prepared in the office dealing with the various subjects which concern it, partly of articles contributed by well-known economists or by leaders of thought in the industrial and trade-union worlds. Apart from these regular publications, all of which appear both in English and French, the office also issues a legislative series containing reprints or translations in English, French and German, of the principal labour laws passed by the parliaments of the world, as well as a number of special studies and reports on questions of current importance, such as the occupation of the factories by the workers in Italy, the history of the miners' strike in Great Britain, the conditions of labour under the short-lived Soviet regime in Hungary and similar topics, which have an interest to the social student everywhere, but about which he finds it difficult to get trustworthy information. In all its publications the aim of the office is to treat the subject-matter with scientific accuracy and complete objectivity, so that they may come to be regarded as really valuable and impartial contributions to social science. In the controversial atmosphere which surrounds so many economic problems to-day, this is not an ideal easily achieved; but if it can be realized, the presentation of the facts upon which future policies must be founded from an international and unprejudiced standpoint will be of real service to honest seekers after truth.


There is one other task which lies upon the International Labour Organization and which goes to the root of its existence - the creation of an international spirit. Unless that spirit can be born and fostered, neither the League of Nations nor any institution connected with it can hope to survive. It is not a question of paying lip-service to catch-words, of realizing " the brotherhood of man," of reviving in the aoth century the picturesque but shadowy idealism of Rousseau. To create a true international spirit it is necessary to begin practically and prosaically at the bottom instead of presumptuously and poetically at the top. The first and most elementary lesson consists of the inculcation of the fact that there are more links, economic, social and human, which bind nations together than there are divergent interests and antagonistic aims which pull them asunder. It is not an easy lesson to learn. The nationalistic impulse in a people is almost as deep-rooted and instinctive as the egoistic impulse in the individual. But just as men cannot live without working with and for their fellow-men in society, so nations cannot exist without cooperating with other nations. Because, however, the nation, being the larger unit, is more nearly self-sufficient than the individual, national public opinion is slow to realize its dependence on others and is apt to believe its national self-sufficiency far more complete than in the modern world it can possibly be. Internationalism is not the antithesis of nationalism, but its complement. Properly understood, it does not mean the emasculation of the national spirit, which represents the embodiment of the ideals, the traditions and the virtues built up during many generations of common national effort. On the contrary, it means the pooling of the spiritual resources of all nations in order to make their intercourse more fruitful and to bring the society of which they are all members to a higher level of prosperity and civilization. To achieve such a result public opinion needs to possess an international as well as a national consciousness. It must acquire a world point-of-view, a Weltanschauung, as a corrective and an enlargement of its national standpoint. Instead of regarding the foreigner with instinctive mistrust, if not with sub-conscious aversion, it will then realize that in most respects he is remarkably similar, that he is grappling with similar problems, faced by similar needs, the victim of similar economic disabilities, which everyone can meet more successfully by working together to find the right solution tban by working alone without each other's experience.

Perhaps the principal work of the International Labour Organzation is to bring about such collaboration in the industrial field, and so to contribute towards the formation of a practical international spirit. In the present state of economic interdependence which the world has reached, to hunt in isolation for the solution of economic problems, which are in a large measure common to all .countries, is hunting deliberately in the dark. When the delegates of the 48 states comprising the League meet at the annual conferences, E hey not only discover an unsuspected community of ideas and entiments, but also an astonishing identity in the difficulties which areoccupy them. The labour question, which is largely a psychological question, is essentially the same in Japan as in Great Britain, despite all the variations of mentality, historical evolution and national tradition which go to make up its setting. The mere meeting of the International Labour Conferences does much to promote a sense of common interest and an understanding of the value of cooperation. For its everyday work the International Labour Office attempts to reach the same end by making known to every country what is being thought and done in others through the medium of its publications and of its correspondents. In London, Paris, Washington, Rome and Berlin, regular correspondents are established. Their business is partly to collect first-hand and complete information about the industrial developments in their own countr y and to keep the office in touch with its government and its great organizat ions of employers and workers. But an even more important part of their duties is to make known the work of the organization, and so to educate public opinion to see things through international eyes. The value, indeed the indispensability, of such a system of contact for an international organization is shown by the frequent demands which have been received for its extension to other countries. Such a network of international connexions can only be gradually and carefully built up, but it is the surest method of foster ing the sense of international communit y, which is essential to the life of the League of Nations and its allied institutions. Like all other institutions, they are liable to feel the effects of the actions and reactions which affect the current of human progress. The vaulting idealism which marked the close of the World War has given ground before a wave of more materialistic sentiment bred of discouragement and disillusionment, because the new world is as yet apparently no better and certainly less prosperous than the old world we remember before the war. But the ideas embodied in the labour part of the Peace Treaty have already obtained a sufficient hold to justify the belief that their survival and development are as certain as those of any movement can be in an age when all things are in flux and nothing can claim finality. (H. B. B.)

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