Rights at work

  • Normative action is an indispensable tool to make decent work a reality."

    Juan Somavia, ILO Director-General, 2001
Achieving the goal of decent work in the globalized economy requires action at the international level. The world community is responding to this challenge in part by developing international legal instruments on trade, finance, environment, human rights and labour. The ILO contributes to this legal framework by elaborating and promoting international labour standards aimed at making sure that economic growth and development go along with the creation of decent work. The ILO's unique tripartite structure ensures that these standards are backed by governments, employers, and workers alike. International labour standards therefore establish the basic minimum social standards agreed upon by all actors in the global economy.

Conventions and Recommendations

International labour standards are legal instruments drawn up by the ILO's constituents (governments, employers and workers) and set out basic principles and rights at work. They are either conventions, which are legally binding international treaties that may be ratified by Member States, or recommendations, which serve as non-binding guidelines. In many cases, a convention establishes the basic principles to be implemented by ratifying countries, while a related recommendation supplements the convention by providing more detailed guidelines on how it could be applied. Recommendations can also be autonomous, i.e. not linked to any convention.

Applying and promoting International Labour Standards

International labour standards are backed by a supervisory system that is unique at the international level and helps ensure that countries implement the conventions they ratify. The ILO regularly examines the application of standards in Member States and points out areas where they could be better applied. If there are problems in the application of standards, the ILO seeks to assist countries through social dialogue and technical assistance.