International Labour Organisation (ILO)

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) is the UN specialised agency for employment and working life issues. The fundamental objectives of the ILO are to combat poverty and promote social justice. Its tasks include promoting employment and better working conditions throughout the world, and safeguarding trade union rights and freedoms.

The ILO is designed to bring together governments, workers and employers in a tripartite institutional structure. This allows it to set standards, avoid conflicts and settle disputes by peaceful means. The tripartite structure is a characteristic unique to the ILO. It is the only UN body where, in addition to governments, civil society actors take part as full decision-making parties of both the Governing Body and the International Labour Conference (ILC), the highest decision-making body.

More than 180 conventions
The ILO is a convention-based organisation, with more than 180 conventions. In 1998, the ILC adopted the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, as well as its follow-up guidelines. The Declaration states that, through their membership of the ILO and ratification of the ILO Constitution, all ILO Member States are obliged to respect, promote and implement the principles and rights that are the theme of the ILO fundamental rights conventions. The rights referred to cover:

  • freedom of association, freedom of organisation and the recognition of the right to collective bargaining;
  • elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour;
  • abolition of child labour (particularly the worst forms of child labour); and
  • elimination of discrimination in working life.

The ILO cannot impose any sanctions. Its working methods are dialogue, counselling, expert help and technical assistance. Sweden has ratified all of the eight fundamental conventions.

The ILO considers that, in a globalised economy, labour legislation is more important than ever. This includes stressing the importance of employment and conditions at workplaces, and the necessity of discussing macroeconomic conditions in a social context. In February 2002, a commission was launched to study different aspects of the social dimensions of globalisation.

Supervision of compliance with the ILO conventions
States that have ratified the ILO conventions are to report on their work to implement the rights. These states must give national representatives of employer and worker organisations an opportunity to comment on the reports. The obligation to report is laid down in the ILO Constitution and varies among the different conventions. Reports concerning the eight fundamental conventions on human rights are to be submitted every other year.

A committee consisting of 20 independent experts reviews and comments on the states’ reports. The independence of the committee members means they are not representatives of the their governments; their membership is instead based on their personal capacity. The Committee of Experts submits individual comments to the states in the form of ‘observations’ and ‘direct requests’. Observations are issued when a state is suspected of serious or long-term violations of rights in the area of working life. These comments are published annually. Direct requests may be issued when the Committee of Experts requires more information from a state to assess whether the state complies with the requirements of a convention.

ILO's website