The International Labour Organization (ILO) is the tripartite United Nation agency that brings together governments, employers and workers of its 185 member States in common action to promote decent work throughout the world. The ILO encourages this tripartism within its constituents and member States by promoting a social dialogue between trade unions and employers in formulating, and where appropriate, implementing national policy on social and economic. The ILO works with main international organizations with a mandate in the field of commerce, finance, economy, human rights and development. In recognition of its activities, the ILO was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1969.

Economic and Political reasons for ILO foundation

The reasons for ILO foundation can be synthesized in response to economic and political issues. After the Great War, if conditions did not improve, the growing discontent among the world's workers threatened to explode into large-scale demonstrations of unrest and possibly revolution, as had occurred in Russia in 1917 and to a lesser extent in Germany and Austria-Hungary near the end of the war.

There was also an economic reason: without universal standards of labor that could be enforced across international borders, any country that instituted social reform would find itself at a disadvantage economically.


Established in 1919 by the Treaty of Versailles as an affiliated agency of the League of Nations, the ILO became the first affiliated specialized agency of the United Nations in 1946.

The unparalleled destruction wrought by the Great War of 1914-1918 led to increased support among the world's countries for just such an organization, not only to regulate labor standards for the steadily growing international population of industrial workers, but also to preserve peace in post-war world.

For these reason, the ILO Constitution, written in 1919, by a commission of representatives from nine countries, Belgium, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, France, Italy, Japan, Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States, eventually became Part XIII of the Treaty of Versailles. It resulted in a tripartite organization, the only one of its kind bringing together representatives of governments, employers and workers in its executive bodies.

The first annual International Labor Conference, which convened in Washington, D.C., in October 1919, issued the organization's first six conventions, which addressed, among other issues, limitations on working hours, unemployment, maternity protection and minimum working age. The following summer, the International Labor Office, the ILO's permanent secretariat, was set up in Geneva, Switzerland.

In 1926, a Committee of Experts was set up as a supervisory system on the application of ILO standards.

During the Great Depression, realizing that handling labour issues also requires international cooperation, the United States became a member of the ILO in 1934 although it continued to stay out of the League of Nations. In the midst of the Second World War, representatives of governments, employers and workers from 41 countries, adopted the Declaration of Philadelphia, annexed to the Constitution, still constitutes the Charter of the aims and objectives of the ILO. In 1946, the ILO became the first specialized agency, the United Nations.After the Second World War, the number of member States doubled, the Organization took on its universal character, the budget grew five-fold and the number of officials quadrupled. The ILO established the Geneva-based International Institute for Labour Studies in 1960 and the International Training Centre in Turin in 1965. The Organization won the Nobel Peace Prize on its 50th anniversary in 1969.

Today the ILO emphasizes the importance of making decent work a strategic international goal, promoting a fair globalization and ILO's role in helping to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. As of 2012, 185 countries in the UN are members of the ILO.


The ILO implements its mandate through three main institutions, each with a tripartite structure (governments, employers, workers), unique and distinctive feature of the Organization: International Labour Office, International Labour Conference and Governing Body.

The International Labour Office is the permanent secretariat of the International Labour Organization. The International Labour Office in Geneva, Switzerland, composed of the permanent Secretariat and professional staff, handles day-to-day operations under the supervision of an appointed director general.

National representatives meet annually at the International Labour Conference, also known as the parliament of Labour, where makes decisions about the ILO's general policy, work programme and budget. The ILO’s executive authority is vested in a 56-member Governing Body, which is elected by the Conference.

The Governing Body is the executive body of the International Labour Organization (the Office is the secretariat of the Organization). It meets three times a year, in March, June and November (the November session will be rescheduled to October, as from 2013). It takes decisions on ILO policy, decides the agenda of the International Labour Conference, adopts the draft Programme and Budget of the Organization for submission to the Conference, and elects the Director-General.

The ILO has international civil servants and technical-assistance experts working in countries throughout the world and the Tribunal that examines employment-related complaints from officials of the International Labour Office and of the other international organizations that have recognized its jurisdiction.

Mission and Objectives

The functions of the ILO include the development and promotion of standards for national legislation to protect and improve working conditions and standards of living. Its main aims are to promote rights at work, encourage decent employment opportunities, enhance social protection and strengthen dialogue on work-related issues. The ILO also provides technical assistance in social policy and administration and in workforce training; fosters cooperative organizations and rural industries; compiles labour statistics and conducts research on the social problems of international competition, unemployment and underemployment, labour and industrial relations, and technological change; and helps to protect the rights of international migrants and organized labour.

The ILO works equally closely with international organizations, with a mandate in the field of commerce, finance, economy, human rights and development, as with regional organizations such as the European Union (see Strategy on sustainable development) to promote an integrated and coherent approach to decent work and fair globalization. In addition the ILO contributes to the G8 and G20 meetings.

ILO Website (



BRANDOLINI A. (2004) Does the ILO definition capture all unemployment?, Roma, Banca d’Italia (

DI TURI C. (2007) Globalizzazione dell’economia e diritti umani fondamentali in materia di lavoro: il ruolo dell’OIL e dell’OMC, Milano, Giuffrè editore (

ILO - OECD (2013) Short-term labour market outlook and key challenges in G20 countries, Moscow, 19 July (

MECHI L. (2012) L'Organizzazione Internazionale del Lavoro e la ricostruzione europea. Le basi sociali dell'integrazione economica (1931-1957), Roma, Ediesse, (


Editor: Giovanni AVERSA

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