The International Labor Organization (ILO) was created in 1919 as designated by Part XIII of the Treaty of Versailles. There had been 19th century social and labor movements among the world's working people, which ultimately led to a demand for higher standards for labor. The need for an international organization was advocated by Robert Owen of Wales and Daniel Legrand of France, both industrialists.

The ILO was initially designated as an organization associated with the League of Nations. Its Constitution was written in January-April, 1919. The Peace Conference in Versailles had set up a commission composed of representatives from Belgium, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, France, Italy, Japan, Poland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The Chairman of the commission was none other than Samuel Gompers, who had been head of the American Federation of Labor.

In 1926, a supervisory system was set up so that the ILO could apply its standards and make sure that the participating countries were protected if they agreed to be a part of the organization. The addition of the system meant that a Committee of Experts was created, made up of independent members who were responsible for examining governmental reports and giving their own reports each year at the Conference.

The League of Nations became defunct in 1946, so the ILO was then made the first specialized agency to be in association with the United Nations. The ILO has had seven directors since it began: Albert Thomas (1919-1932) from France, Harold B. Butler (1932-1938) from the UK, John G. Winant (1938-1941) from the U.S., Edward J. Phelan (1941-1948) from Ireland, David A. Morse (1948-1970) from the US, Wilfred Jenks (1970-1999) from the U.K.; Juan Somavia (1999-) from France.

As of late, the ILO has been cooperating with other international groups. The ILO is now included in the meetings of the G-8 countries (biggest industrial nations), the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. Over 2,230 laws and practices have been changed by governments as a result of concerns raised by the ILO supervisory committees. The ILO also won a Nobel Prize in 1969. See also: The World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization which was established by the International Labor Organization in February 2002.


The initial motives for creating the ILO were humanitarian, political, and economic. The organization wanted to end the injustice they believed was occurring toward many people of the working class all over the world. The matter ties into politics in that the organization believes peace cannot exist if the workers are unhappy. The preamble to their constitution says that unfair treatment will cause "unrest so great that the peace and harmony of the world are imperiled." The economic issue is also addressed in the preamble, which says "the failure of any nation to adopt humane conditions of labor is an obstacle in the way of other nations which desire to improve the conditions in their own countries."

The main way that the ILO tries to solve these problems is to pass International Labor Standards in order to improve life for the working people. The ILO seeks to have better labor conditions, standards of living, and standards of social justice. The organization has also concentrated on work hour regulations, insurance for workers in case of occupational injury or disease, and protection for women and kids.

The International Labor Standards are referred to as Conventions and Recommendations and are to be implemented by states who belong to the organization. The Conventions and Recommendations have specific standards and guidelines for child labor, protecting women, work hours, holidays with pay, inspection of labor, vocational guidance/training, social security protection, workers' housing, occupational health/safety, conditions for work at sea, and protection for migrant workers. The international standards also cover basic human rights, including the abolition of forced labor and elimination of discrimination in the workplace.

The ILO also is a significant source of information about labor and social topics. It also acts as a sort of educational and research institution. It has established institutes for the sole reason of researching said topics, the International Institute for Labor Studies in Geneva, and the International Center for Advanced Technical and Vocational Training in Italy.


The ILO is a tripartite structure consisting of government representatives, employers, and workers. There are two main bodies that make up the organization's process for accomplishing tasks: the International Labor Conference and the Governing Body. Their roles are as follows:

The International Labor Conference is made up of the member states of the ILO who meet annually in June. The Conference is held at the International Labor Office in Geneva. The Conference is made up of four representatives from each member country, two of which are government delegates, and one worker and one employer delegate. All of the people involved are allowed to speak and vote independently.

It is the International Labor Conference that ultimately adopts the International Labor Standards and is a forum for social and labor questions to be discussed. The Conference also elects the Governing Body.

The work of the ILO is guided by the Governing Body in between Conferences. The Body is made of 24 government members, 12 worker members, 12 employer members, and 12 deputy members from each of the 3 groups. The headquarters is in the International Labor Office in Geneva. It serves as the secretarial and operational headquarters, a research center, and a publishing house. Otherwise, activities are delegated to offices in over 40 other countries on regional, area, and branch levels.


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