Home CEIM / Home GGT / Research Activities / ILO


The ILO is, since 1919, the most important international organization in the domain of labour standards. While it is still a very important organization, it is now confronted with new challenges linked to the globalization process and to the multiplication of initiatives being developed by a numerous other actors.

Since the 1990s, the ILO is involved in the debate on the social dimension of globalization. Core labour standards, decent work, corporate social responsibilities are at the core of a new set of initiatives and strategies of the ILO. However, many questions remain answered. Is the ILO becoming a spectator or is it still at the center of the LGG? Are “Core Labour Standards” a way forward or backward? Can the ILO benefit from the multiplication of labour governance mechanisms or is it slowly being marginalized? This section will provide resources on the evolution of the role of the ILO in the LGG, particularly on the challenges it faces in adjusting to globalization.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) was founded to address the challenges of the industrial revolution that faced western countries in the 19th century. In 1919, conscious of the fact that labour conditions involving such injustice, hardship and privation for a large numbers of people carried the danger of producing unrest so great that the peace and harmony of the world were imperilled, states that signed the Treaty of Versailles created the ILO. What the ILO founders recognized was that the world economy needed precise rules to ensure that economic progress would go hand in hand with social justice, prosperity, and peace for all. To meet this challenge, the ILO developed a system of international labour standards that covers all labour matters. It involves international conventions and recommendations developed by representatives of governments as well as employers and workers from all over the world (more than 180 conventions and 190 recommendations have been adopted to date). These international labour standards, developed on a tripartite basis, lay down the basic minimum of social standards agreed upon by all players in the world economy.

Even though the mission of the ILO, at the time of its creation, was to respond to the problems facing industrialized countries, the Organization evolved in a dynamic and creative way with the sharp rise in its membership in the two decades following World War II. During the Cold War years, the ILO succeeded in maintaining its universal mission while reaffirming its fundamental values without compromise. The end of the Cold War and the accelerated pace of globalization constitutes a challenge leading the organization to reconsider its goals, programs, and working methods.

In the framework of the globalized economy, the international community developed legal instruments to deal with trade, finance, the environment, human rights, and labour. The ILO, with 179 member states and a unique tripartite structure, contributed to this legal framework by developing and seeking to promote international labour standards intended to guarantee that economic growth and development go hand in hand with the creation of “decent” jobs. More recently, the ILO has issued the Decent Work Agenda that aims to promote social dialogue, social protection, and job creation as well as compliance with international labour standards that now form a body of global standards that is accompanied by control mechanisms to address problems that arise in their application at the national level.

For a long time the ILO had a monopoly in international labour law, giving it considerable legitimacy. Today, however, this monopoly has become eroded and has had to give way to a proliferation of international labour standards and other initiatives of a similar type from countries or groups of countries (e.g. the European Union), private players, non-governmental organizations, unions, or businesses. With this upsurge in the number of players and of new “rules of the game”, the ILO’s normative role, far from being edged aside by globalization, may prove more necessary than ever.

Indeed, voluntary standards developed by some of the large corporations and private organizations may seem more like a symptom than an adequate response to the need for a reliable globally recognized legal framework. The ILO, as was emphasized at the ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization held in Singapore in 1996, still seems to be the only international forum that can legitimately address this need, make an accurate assessment of the current institutional transformations, and advance its positioning and action accordingly.


Position papers

Official documents

Scientific articles


Global Labour Governance (GLG) ggt @uqam.ca Site Map Haut Haut
Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM)    Institut d'études internationales de Montréal (IEIM)    Centre d'études sur l'intégration et la mondialisation (CEIM)    CANADA    Ressources humaines et Développement social Canada    Conseil des relations internationales de Montréal (CORIM)