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International Initiatives

In the twentieth century, the International Labour Organization held a near monopoly on international labour law, in particular regarding the development, implementation, and control of international labour standards. In the context of globalization, over the last 15 years, many new players have appeared, and we can now observe a proliferation of regulatory labour mechanisms. While this development offers great potential, it can also create a chaos that renders normative references more arbitrary. It creates the risk of privatizing international labour standards and of producing competition between them, thus threatening the integrity of their content.

Along with private initiatives, essentially codes of conduct and social labels, certain initiatives have emerged at the international level over the last 10 years to ensure greater respect for fundamental labour rights.

At the 1995 United Nations World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, core labour standards established by the ILO were recognized as universal values. Heads of state from around the world reaffirmed the existence of basic workers’ rights as expressed in certain international ILO labour standards and recognized as core ILO conventions.

The following year, at a WTO ministerial conference held in Singapore, trade ministers reaffirmed their commitment to abide by internationally recognized fundamental labour standards. They clearly stipulated, as well, that they recognized the ILO as the appropriate organization for establishing and implementing these standards, and they declared their support for the promotional work achieved by the ILO in this area.

Two years later, after the WTO rejected the idea of a social clause integrated in trade agreements, the ILO, prompted by its own institutional mandate, adopted the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its follow-up agreement at the International Labour Conference of 1998. In doing so, it sought to act swiftly in favour of social justice to avoid becoming progressively marginalized within the international system. The Declaration aimed to align economic progress with social progress by establishing a set of basic universal social regulations that that would apply independently of individual actions of states. Rather than replacing existing basic conventions, the Declaration seek to support and strengthen them. It is a reaffirmation by all ILO member states (regardless of their level of economic development, their cultural values, their historical past, or the number of conventions they have ratified) of their political commitment to the promotion, realization, and respect of the principles and rights contained in this Declaration.

The following year, in 1999, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan launched the Global Compact as a way of confronting economic players with their social responsibilities. This global pact is based on cooperation between many actors, among them the United Nations, the ILO, the UNDP, and businesses. To date, thousands of businesses adhere to the platform. The initiative is based on ten principles drawn from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ILO conventions, and the Rio Declaration on the Environment and Development. The principles are the following: promoting and respecting human rights; ensuring that their own companies are not complicit in human rights abuses; guaranteeing freedom of association and collective bargaining; eliminating all forms of forced labour; abolishing child labour; eliminating all forms of discrimination at work; supporting a preventive approach to environmental protection; encouraging the development and diffusion of environment-friendly technologies; and, fighting corruption.

Another international initiative was the establishment, in November 2001, of the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization. This Commission, instituted by the ILO, brings together 24 eminent public figures from all parts of the world and is co-chaired by the presidents of Finland and Tanzania. In February 2004 it issued a report entitled "A Fair Globalization - Creating Opportunities for All" which formulated a set of concrete recommendations for giving globalization a strong social dimension founded on universally shared values and the respect of human rights and dignity. The Commission also concluded that the multilateral system has a key role to play in the reforms to be undertaken at the global level and proposed a new operational instrument for improved coordination of policies from various international organizations when their mandates overlap and their policies interact.

Among other instruments that could form part of the international initiatives on global labour governance are the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Adopted by 30 countries, the OECD Guidelines are one of four instruments of the Declaration on International Investment and Multinational Enterprises. They constitute a code of conduct approved at the multilateral level, but yet they are non-binding. Chapter IV of this instrument concerns "Employment and Industrial Relations" and one of the eight topics it raises deals with basic labour rights, including the principles contained in the ILO 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.

Lastly, it should be mentioned that there has been a proliferation of international framework agreements over the last 10 years or so. Those agreements often engage multinational businesses to abide by the fundamental labour standards defined in the ILO Declaration of 1998 in their operations, including those of their subsidiaries and subcontractors. These framework agreements, negotiated between multinationals and international professional secretariats, establish certain principles which, though not constituting collective conventions comparable to national or local agreements, provide a framework of rights that encourages recognition and negotiation at the international and even transnational level.

In this section, the GLG project aims to map the various international initiatives on global labour governance and to participate on the debates around them.

International Organizationsà

The ILO is, since 1919, the most important international organization in the domain of labour standards and governance. While it is still a very important organization, many other international organizations are involved in LGG. This section provides key information and research tools regarding the role of the ILO and several other international organizations and agencies that are involved in labour governance mechanisms and initiatives. It will also deal with broad questions relating to the interplay between international organizations; i.e, the relationship between the WTO, the ILO, the OECD, the IFIs and others that shape the LGG.


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