What Is the International Labor Organization (ILO)?

What Is the International Labor Organization (ILO)?

4 Min.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) operates as a United Nations (U.N.) agency with a mission to promote social and economic justice through the establishment of international labor standards. With 187 member states, the ILO's headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, governs around 40 field offices globally. Its comprehensive standards aim to foster accessible, productive, and sustainable work, guaranteeing freedom, equity, security, and dignity for all.


As a United Nations agency, the International Labour Organization strives to promote social and economic justice through its international labor standards. These conventions and protocols play a pivotal role in shaping international labor law.

The ILO: Empowering Global Labor Standards and Equality

The International Labour Organization (ILO) was established in 1919 within the League of Nations and later integrated into the U.N. as a specialized agency in 1946. As the oldest specialized agency of the U.N., its mission is to unite governments, businesses, and workers in ensuring freedom, equity, security, and human dignity in the workplace.

With field offices across Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Arab States, Asia and the Pacific, and Europe and Central Asia, the ILO actively promotes international labor standards. It offers training on fair employment practices, technical cooperation for projects in partner countries, labor statistics analysis, and publishes related research. Regular events and conferences examine vital social and labor issues. Notably, the ILO was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1969 for fostering peace among nations, championing justice and decent work for workers, and supporting developing nations through technical assistance.

The ILO's 190 conventions and six protocols outline essential labor standards, including the right to collective bargaining, elimination of forced labor, eradication of child labor, and ending employment discrimination.

With a three-tiered structure encompassing governments, employers, and workers, the ILO's key bodies are the International Labour Conference, the Governing Body, and the International Labour Office. The Conference shapes international labor standards annually, the Governing Body acts as the executive council deciding policies and budgets, and the International Labour Office administers and implements the organization's activities.

ILO's Comprehensive List of International Labor Standards

The International Labour Organization has established a range of legal instruments, crafted collaboratively by governments, employers, and workers, to uphold fundamental principles and work rights. These instruments take the form of conventions/protocols, which are legally binding international treaties ratified by member states, or recommendations, serving as nonbinding guidelines.

The eight fundamental conventions include:

  1. Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87).
  2. Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98).
  3. Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) (and its 2014 Protocol).
  4. Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105).
  5. Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138).
  6. Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182).
  7. Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951 (No. 100).
  8. Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111).

Additionally, there are four governance conventions vital for the effective functioning of the international labor standards system:

  1. Labour Inspection Convention, 1947 (No. 81).
  2. Employment Policy Convention, 1964 (No. 122).
  3. Labour Inspection (Agriculture) Convention, 1969 (No. 129).
  4. Tripartite Consultation (International Labour Standards) Convention, 1976 (No. 144).

Advancing Global Welfare: ILO's Flagship Development Programs


BetterWork collaborates with the World Bank Group's International Finance Corporation to improve working conditions in garment and footwear factories worldwide. The program emphasizes lasting improvements and aims to benefit workers, managers, countries, and consumers alike.

Global Flagship Programme on Building Special Protection Floors (SPFs) for All

With the goal of extending social protection to five billion people without adequate coverage, this program works with 21 countries to create comprehensive social protection systems and measures for all, including floors.

International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour and Forced Labour (IPEC+)

IPEC+ aims to eradicate child labor and forced labor by 2025 and human trafficking by 2030. It collaborates with governments, employers, and workers to create transformative changes, expand knowledge, and provide policy-oriented advice.

Safety + Health for All

Initially known as GAP-OSH, this program focuses on improving occupational safety and health in small and medium-sized enterprises. It targets hazardous sectors, vulnerable workers, and global supply chains while addressing COVID-19 related safety needs.

Jobs for Peace and Resilience

This program fosters job creation in conflict and disaster-stricken countries, with a focus on youth and female employment. Through social dialogue and fundamental principles, it aims to provide direct job opportunities, enhance employability, and support self-employment and cooperatives.


The Global Commission on the Future of Work, convened by the ILO in 2019, engaged around 110 countries in regional and national dialogues to address 21st-century labor challenges. The resulting report offered key recommendations, including a universal labor guarantee, lifelong social protection, and access to continuous learning.

Additionally, the ILO analyzed the potential impact of a green economy transition on employment. It estimated that with proper policies, the shift could generate 24 million new jobs worldwide by 2030.

International Labor Organization (ILO)
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