ILO Declaration on Fundamental Prinicples & Rights at Work

The ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work was adopted in 1998, the Declaration commits Member States to respect a promote principles and rights in four categories, whether or not they have ratified the relevant Conventions.

These categories are: freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining, the elimination of forced or compulsory labour, the abolition of child labour and the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

The ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work makes it clear that these rights are universal, and that they apply to all people in all States-regardless of the level of economic development. It particularly mentions groups with special needs, including the unemployment and migrant workers. It recognises that economic growth alone is not enough to ensure equity, social progress and to eradicate poverty. This commitment is supported by a Follow-up procedure. Member States that have not ratified one or more of the core Conventions are asked each year to report on the status of the relevant rights and principles within their borders, noting impediments to ratification, and areas where assistance may be required. These

reports are reviewed by the Committee of Independent Expert Advisers. In turn, their observations are considered by the ILO’s Governing Body.

Governance, organisation, and membership

Unlike other United Nations specialized agencies, the International Labour Organisation has a tripartite governing structure that brings together governments, employers and workers of 187 member States, to set labour standards, develop policies and devise programmes promoting decent work for all women and men. The very structure of the ILO, where workers and employers together have an equal voice with governments in its deliberation, shows social dialogue in action. It ensures that the views of the social partners are closely reflected in ILO labour standards, policies and programmes.

Governing body

 The governing body is the executive body of the international labour organisation (the office is the secretariat of the Organisation). 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, elects the Director-General, requests information from member states concerning labour matters, appoints commission of inquiry and supervises the work of the International Labour Office.

Juan Somavía was the ILO’s Director-General from 1999 until October 2012 when Guy Ryder was elected. The ILO Governing Body re-elected Guy Ryder as Director-General for a second five year-term in November 2016.

This governing body is composed of 57 titular members (28 Governments, 14 Employers and 14 Workers) and 66 deputy members (28 Governments, 19 Employers and 19 Workers). Ten of the titular government’s seats are permanently

held by States of chief industrial importance (Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States). The other Government members are elected by the Conference every three years 9the last elections were held in June 2014). The Employer and Worker members are elected in their individual capacity.

International Labour Conference

The ILO organizes once a year the International Labour Conference in Geneva to set the broad policies of the ILO, including conventions and recommendations. Also known as the “International Parliament of Labour”, the conference makes decisions about the ILO’s general policy, work programme and budget and also elects the Governing Body.

Each member State is represented by a delegation: two government delegates, an employer delegate, a worker delegate and their respective advisers. All of them have individual voting rights and all votes are equal, regardless the population of the delegate’s member State. The employer and worker delegates are normally chosen in agreement with the most representative national organisation of employers and workers. Usually, the workers and employers’ delegates coordinate their voting. All delegates have the same rights and are not required to vote in blocs.

Delegate have the same rights, they can express themselves freely and vote as they wish. This diversity of viewpoints does not prevent decisions being adopted by very large majorities or unanimously.

Heads of State and prime ministers also participate in the Conference. International organizations, both governmental and others, also attend but as observers.


Through July 2018, the ILO had adopted 189 conventions. If these conventions are ratified by enough governments, they come in force. However, ILO

conventions are considered international labour standards regardless of ratification. When a convention comes into force, it creates a legal obligation for ratifying nations to apply its provisions.

Every year the International Labour Conference’s Committee on the application of Standards examines a number of alleged breaches of international labour standards. Governments are required to submit reports detailing their compliance with the obligations of the conventions they have ratified. Conventions that have not been ratified by member states have the same legal force as recommendations.

In 1998, the 86th International Labour Conference adopted the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. This declaration contains four fundamental policies:

  • The right if workers to associate freely and bargain collectively
  • The end of forced and compulsory labour
  • The end of child labour
  • The end of unfair discrimination among workers

The ILO asserts that it members have an obligation to work towards fully respecting these principles, embodied in relevant ILO conventions. The ILO conventions which embody the fundamental principles have now been ratified by most member States.


 The device is employed for making conventions more flexible or for amplifying obligations by amending or adding provisions on different points. Protocols are always linked to Convention; even though they are international treaties they do not exist on their own. As with conventions, Protocols can be ratified.


Recommendations do not have the binding force of conventions and are not subjected to ratification.

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 separate from particular conventions.


The ILO has 187 members. 186 of the 193 member states of the United Nations plus the Cook Islands are members if the ILO. The UN member states which are not members of the ILO are Andorra, Bhutan, Liechtenstein, Micronesia, Monaco, Nauru and North Korea.

The ILO constitution permits any member of the UN to become a member of the ILO. To gain membership, a nation must inform the director-general that it accepts all the obligations of the ILO constitution. Other states can be admitted by a two-thirds vote of all delegates, including a two-thirds vote of government delegates, at any ILO General Conference. The Cook Islands, a non-UN state, joined in June 2015.

Members of the ILO under the League of the Nations automatically became members when the organisation’s new constitution came into effect after World War II.

Position within the UN

 The ILO is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN). As with other UN specialized agencies (or programmes) working on international development, the ILO is also a member of the United Nations Development Group.

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