• Legis Scriptor

International Labour Organisation

Authored by - Thejuswini

Keywords - International Labour Organisation, Historical Background, Functions.


Each and every subject matter has its own historical background and in order to understand the subject in a proper manner, we need to have a clear-cut idea regarding the same. As the title of the article suggests, this article shall exclusively deal with the history of the International Labour Organization and will evaluate the functioning of ILO in past and the contemporary times.


Formation of the United Nations on 24 October 1945 with an aim to ensure international peace and harmony among nations lead a pathway to the formation of different specialized agencies. International Labour Organisation is one of the 17 specialized agencies[1] under the United Nations. In other words, the International Labour Organisation is an international organization that has collaborated with the United Nations and its function through negotiated agreements. International Labour Organisation is the first specialized agency[2] to be formed under the United Nations in the year 1946. It has also been awarded the Nobel peace prize for the year 1969. This article puts forth the historical background (from the year 1919 to 2008) as to how the International Labour Organisation came into being, along with the introduction of the United Nations. This shall be done by elaborating on the historical background through a comprehensive timeline. Moreover, it shall also give a rough idea of the provisions put forth by the International Labour Organisation during recent times.

Important Events from the Historical Background of International Labour Organisation

(From 1919 to 2008)

29 January 1919[3] - The first World War acted as a turning point in the history of the world. It was on this day; a draft was constituted to establish the International Labour Organisation. International Labour Organisation was formed under the Paris Peace Conference, in order to recognize it, as a permanent international organization.

11 and 28 April 1919 - This draft (Constitution) was adopted and was incorporated in Part XII of the Treaty of Versailles under the heading 'Labour'.

28 June 1919 - This Constitution, Treaty of Versailles, or the International Labour Organisation was adopted by the Peace Conference as a whole.

1919 - The total number of states under the International Labour Organisation was 44 when it was initially formed.

October to November 1919 - The First Conference of International Labour Organisation was held. The First Conference of International Labour Organisation was held in Washington. International Labour Conference is a conference that comprises of the representatives of all the member states. About 40 countries took part in the first conference. Every country was represented by two government delegates of which one was an employer's delegate and the other was the worker's delegate. In this conference, they adopted 6 conventions and recommendations as per the questions raised by the countries.

January 1920 - In order to ensure the structure and proper functioning of the organization, the Director of International Labour Organisation Albert Thomas came up with the proposal for the organization of the office in the second session of the governing body in Paris.

23 March 1920 - The proposal put forth was accepted under the third session of the government body in London.

June 1920 - Georges Fouquet became the first chief of the International Labour Organisation under the section of cooperation. This was done in addition to the 2nd International Labour Conference that was held so as to exclusively deal with labour issues related to the Maritime sector. This conference brought up changes in the minimum age and the same came into force on 27th September 1921. This was also amended later on in the minimum age convention of 1973.

19 July 1920 - International Labour Office was shifted from London to Geneva.

1926 - 8th session of the International Labour Conference was held in order to look into the increasing number of annual reports due to the increase in the number of ratifications. In this session, the delegates introduced two committees namely the Conference Committee on the Application of Standards and the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations.

1927 - Initially in 1924, the international labour standards were adopted using the procedure known as the double reading system. In 1927, this got replaced by a new procedure known as the double discussion system.

June 28, 1930 - A Constitution in order to prevent and prohibit all kinds of forced labour was introduced and was named as International Labour Organisation. It consisted of 33 Articles as a whole.

1932 - A total of four advisory opinions were given by the Permanent Court of International Justice by referring to the competency of the International Labour Organisation.

2 to 14 January 1936 - First Regional Conference was held. It was held to inspect specific problems faced by labourers in the American member states. A total of 26 resolutions were adopted in the Santiago Conference. This conference, in turn, helped a lot in stabilizing the universality of the International Labour Organisation.

1940[4] - All necessary steps were taken by the governing body so as to keep the organization functioning even during the time of World War II. AsGeneva was under the threat of German troops, they temporarily shifted the area of functioning from Geneva to Montreal. There was total of 18 countries of which 14 staff members were transferred, some were made to stay at Geneva itself in order to execute the necessary functions and the rest were sent back to their respective countries.

27 October to 6 November 1941 - A conference of the International Labour Organisation was held in New York and Washington DC. The main motive of organizing this conference was to neither introduce any sort of constitutional provisions nor to infer any sort of powers or to adopt any international labour conventions. Instead, it was held to conduct a survey pertaining to the examination of social developments, during the time of World War II and to ensure the responsibilities which are to be taken up by the organization.

April to May 1944 - 26th International Labour Conference was held in Philadelphia. It came to be popularly known as the Philadelphia Declaration. It was in this conference; Article 41 was replaced by giving consideration to the aims and purposes of the International Labour Organisation. It was this declaration that gave vague indications for the formation of the United Nations Charter and The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

1945 - Different trade committees were set up in the aftermath of World War II, in order to, fulfill the urgent needs of the people by adopting ILO's methods and mechanisms.

30 May 1946[5] - International Labour Organisation signed the agreement and became a part of the United Nations. It was in the 27th session that the International Labour Organisation consented to become a part of the United Nations in Paris.

8 November 1947 - First Asian Regional Conference was held in New Delhi. Representatives of 18 countries along with the members of The International Labour Organisation were a part of this conference. A total of 23 resolutions were adopted at the conference.

1948 - The Freedom of Association and the Right to Organize Convention clearly mentioned that the workers and the employers had the right to join any of the organizations of their choice, without getting any prior permission. In short, it enabled the employees and workers to establish organizations and federations at their discretion. They can do the same without getting any prior authorization.

March 1948, December 1948 and March 1949 - In the 104, 107 and 108 sessions of the International Labour Conference, Manpower Programme was launched. This was introduced so as to solve the manpower issues by the way of presenting new activities, in order to, help the government and organizations of employees.

Even though the launch of the manpower program was on the basis of the work executed by considering the past events of the International Labour Organisation, it took a new diversion. In fact, this particular programme expanded the scope of technical advisory missions.

1949 - Introduction of conventions, in order to, provide the workers with rights to protect themselves against discrimination. In furtherance of the same, the convention also provided the workers with the rights to negotiate with employers so as to regulate salaries and benefits gained during the course of employment.

25 April to 9 May 1950 - One of the main aims and objectives of the International Labour Organisation is to safeguard the migrants as well as protect their rights. The Special Migration Programme was introduced to discuss the migration issues and to make available a fund of $ 1 Million Dollars in order to ensure that the government takes necessary steps for the proper flow of migrants in European countries and countries overseas.

1951 - Equal remuneration convention laid down emphasis on the fact that both men and women should be given equal wages.

1953 - In order to conduct a study of the living conditions and working conditions of the indigenous people, a programme was launched namely the Andean Programme. International Labour Organisation also formed a special committee for the same to educate the people regarding the modern techniques and technologies by conducting training camps.

24 January to 5 February 1955 - The First European Regional Conference was held at Geneva. It was held so that Europe could declare themselves self-sufficient enough to look into the social and economic issues and come up with solutions for the same.

1957 - Convention for abolishing forced labour was held.

1958 - Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention was held to ensure that all the ratified states make a national policy to promote equality in the field of work, education and treatment. It also promoted the nullification of discrimination.

5 to 16 December 1960[6] - The First International Labour Organisation African Regional Conference was held. This conference is considered to be the largest conference in the history of the International Labour Organisation. This convention was of utmost importance as it gave a platform to different parts of Africa to put forth their views regarding societal issues and issues pertaining to work.

1964 - As Africa was following Apartheid laws, the governing body of ILO planned to exclude South Africa from trade communities. Even before Africa got excluded from ILO, they themselves (i.e. The Republic of South Africa) voluntarily withdrew from ILO in 1964 and rejoined ILO in 1994 after repealing Apartheid laws in South Africa.

10 December 1969 - ILO was awarded Nobel Peace Prize. In the same year, World Employment Programme was introduced. This order was introduced to make sure that a large number of people are acquiring jobs. Furthermore, it also laid emphasis on helping the member states to take initiatives to fulfill the same aforementioned.

1973 - Minimum Age Convention was held. The main objective of the Minimum Age Convention was to demarcate the exact ages, under which a person would get employed.

1977 - In this year ILO laid more emphasis on the problems faced by employees due to the poor working conditions. Thus, International Labour Committee members introduced an International Programme for the improvement of working conditions and the same was approved by ILO in 1976.

1992[7] - International Programme on Elimination of Child Labour was introduced. This programme aimed at eradicating child labour and foster anti-child labour.

1998 -To promote fundamental legal principles of social justice and to strengthen the same, ILO made a declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. This in turn encouraged ratification campaigns.

2000 - A programme was launched by ILO in collaboration with WHO. The programme was named as the programme on HIV/AIDS and the World of Work. The main gist of this programme was to build capacity amongst the social partners and to use ILO resources to the fullest and to nullify discrimination amongst the infected workers.

February 2002 - An independent body named as the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization was introduced by ILO. Such an independent body was established in order to create opportunities for all under fair globalization.

7 to 23 February 2006 - Emphasis was laid on the Maritime sector in the 94th session of International Labour Conference. This conference ensured proper working in highly globalized sectors.

10 June 2008 - A declaration was made by ILO so as to ensure social justice for fair globalization. This falls under the major declarations made by ILO dated back to 1994 and 1998. This declaration aimed at ensuring social justice, promoting fair globalization and ILO's constitutional objectives.


In recent times ILO has come up with provisions relating to decent working conditions during the time of COVID 19 outbreak.[8] In addition to that, ILO has also answered several questions on how to go about with work (basically relating to the rights of getting removed, removing oneself from work, wages earned from work etc.), how to take care of oneself and access healthcare, how to prevent and nullify discrimination etc. From this article, we can understand and infer that the International Labour Organisation has a long history starting from World War I. Though in the initial times, the tensions of ILO had increased as it had to keep a balance between the goals laid down by ILO, the societal changes and the economic globalization. ILO has always come up with models, plans, conventions etc. which has lead to bringing up practical changes than it is on pen and paper.


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