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International Labour Organization (ILO): Guide to Research  

This guide is designed to introduce the ILO and to provide pointers on finding information about the ILO and its work.
Last Updated: Sep 29, 2015 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

Introduction Print Page

ILO Mission

The International Labour Organization (ILO) is an international organization dedicated to promoting social justice, labor rights and human rights.  Central to the ILO's mission is the belief, expressed in the Preamble to the ILO Constitution, that international peace can be established only if it is based on social justice, and that the failure of any nation to adopt humane conditions of labor is an obstacle in the way of other nations which desire to improve conditions in their own countries.

From the Declaration of Philadelphia (1944), annexed to the ILO Constitution:

"Believing that experience has fully demonstrated the truth of the statement in the Constitution of the International Labour Organisation that lasting peace can be established only if it is based on social justice, the Conference affirms that:

(a) all human beings, irrespective of race, creed or sex, have the right to pursue both their material well-being and their spiritual development in conditions of freedom and dignity, of economic security and equal opportunity ...."


ILO History in Brief

The ILO was founded in 1919 following World War I.  The original founding document of the ILO is part of the Treaty of Versailles.  In 1920 the ILO headquarters was established in Geneva.  In 1934 the founding document was separated from the Treaty of Versailles and became known as the ILO Constitution.  In 1944 the ILO Conference meeting in Philadelphia adopted the Declaration of Philadelphia, which restates the aims and role of the ILO in the post-World War II era.  In 1946 the ILO became the first Specialized Agency of the United Nations.  In 1969 on the occasion of its 50th anniversary the ILO was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  Today 183 states are members of the ILO, and it is the leading international organization that works in the field of labor rights.


ILO Structure

The main organs of the ILO are:

  • International Labour Conference -- The broad policies of the ILO are set by the International Labour Conference, which meets each year in June in Geneva.  The Conference adopts international labor standards and is a forum for discussion of key social and labor issues.  The Conference also adopts the ILO budget and elects the Governing Body.  In the Conference each member state is represented by a delegation consisting of two government delegates, an employer delegate, and a worker delegate. The work of the Conference is published in the Record of Proceedings of the International Labour Conference, which are available in PDF on the ILO website from 1919 to the present.
  • Governing Body -- The Governing Body is the executive council of the ILO.  It makes decisions on ILO policy, sets the agenda of the International Labour Conference, adopts the draft Programme and Budget for submission to the Conference, and elects the Director-General of the International Labour Office.  The Governing Body has 56 members (28 governments, 14 employer representatives, and 14 worker representatives).  Ten of the government seats are held permanently by states of chief industrial importance (Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, United States).  The work of the Governing Body is recorded in the Minutes of the Governing Body, which are available in PDF on the ILO website from 1919 to the present.
  • International Labour Office -- The International Labour Office is the ILO's permanent secretariat, headed by the Director-General.  The Office employes some 2,700 officials from over 150 nations at its headquarters in Geneva and in about 40 field offices around the world. 

Tripartism -- A unique feature of the ILO, as indicated above, is the principle of tripartism, which means that employers' and workers' representatives have an equal voice with governments in shaping the ILO's policies and programs.

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Last Revision

February 2012


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