The ILO has adopted hundreds of conventions and recommendations that regulate issues related to the labor market and social welfare. They have similar content but the conventions are legally binding, while the recommendations often contain more detailed regulations. Many of the conventions are concrete applications of principles enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
Conventions and recommendations
By 2006, the ILO had adopted 187 conventions and 198 recommendations regulating issues related to the labor market and social welfare. They have similar content but the conventions are legally binding, while the recommendations often contain more detailed regulations.
Many of the conventions are concrete applications of principles enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. When a Member State ratifies a convention, it promises to apply it. National laws must be aligned with the Convention, and the member agrees that the ILO monitors compliance with it.
Recommendations only provide guidelines for Member States’ policies, but each state is obliged to consider whether they should be transposed into national law. The conventions and recommendations together constitute an international labor code (International Labor Code) which has a great opinion-forming significance for social and labor market legislation all over the world.
In the late 1990’s, the ILO identified some conventions that were specifically considered to safeguard fundamental human rights. The eight so-called core conventions are considered a prerequisite for other conventions. The ILO is pushing hard for the adoption of the core conventions, and by the beginning of 2007, 125 of the world’s countries had ratified all eight. This gives them a clear special status, other conventions have on average only been ratified by just over one in five members.
There are also a large number of conventions that very few members have ratified. Some of them concern specific conditions, such as port work, which are not relevant everywhere. Others are controversial, such as conventions on minimum wage and social benefits for workers. Only a dozen states have ratified more than 90 conventions. At the beginning of 2007, Sweden had joined 91.
According to constructmaterials, ILO workers often want to push through new conventions, while employers generally prefer to slow down. It is unusual for decisions on conventions to be taken unanimously.
One problem is that many poor developing countries have only acceded to a few conventions. One reason is stated to be that they do not consider themselves able to afford the financial obligations that many of the conventions entail.
Among the developed countries, the United States stands out for having acceded to very few ILO conventions. This also applies to the core conventions. Officially, this is justified by the fact that the US political system makes it difficult for the federal government to adopt binding conventions in areas where the states have the right to legislate. However, many have pointed out that other federal states do not see the same problem with adopting the various ILO conventions.
The reluctance of Member States to ratify adopted conventions is undeniably a weakness of the system. But on the other hand, many of the ILO’s defenders argue, it is positive that states are carefully considering whether they can comply with the conventions before ratifying them. The conventions thus become more important and are not signed casually.
A convention that has aroused great debate in Sweden concerns indigenous peoples. The convention came into force in 1989, but at the beginning of 2007 the Riksdag had still not ratified it due to ambiguities regarding the Sami land rights.
Every ten years, states that have ratified a convention are given the opportunity to denounce it. This happens mainly when Member States consider that a new convention has come to replace an old one, but also when a state changes its mind on a matter.
Sweden has terminated several pieces. The most recent was 1992, when the convention banning paid employment services was terminated, as the government wanted to leave the way open for private employment services.
The external cooperation
The ILO is an independent organization, but it cooperates with other professional bodies and support bodies within the UN system. In addition to development cooperation with UNDP and UNFPA, the ILO also works together with, for example, the World Health Organization (WHO) on health issues and with UNESCO on education issues.
Several UN agencies have observer status in the ILO. There are also a number of other international organizations that advise the ILO.
A large number of voluntary organizations also have positions as advisers to the ILO. Among other things, they will have the opportunity to give speeches at the working conference.