Engaging civil society

Relations with non-governmental international organizations

  1. Operational level
  2. Statutory provisions
  3. Requesting an invitation
  4. ILO Special List of NGOs
By virtue of its unique tripartite structure, the International Labour Organization maintains a close relationship with the non-governmental sector, which involves the following:

  1. the integration of non-governmental social partners (employers' and workers' organizations) in the identity of the Organization itself;
  2. according consultative status to non-governmental international organizations that meet certain criteria;
  3. collaboration at the operational level with a variety of international, regional, national and local organizations.
As a tripartite organization, the ILO does not simply collaborate with non-governmental organizations but actually integrates sectors of civil society into its structure. That integration reflects a "continuous and concerted international effort in which the representatives of workers and employers, enjoying equal status with those of governments, join with them in free discussion and democratic decision with a view to the promotion of the common welfare" (Declaration of Philadelphia, I(d)). In the International Labour Conference, the supreme organ of the ILO, the employers' and workers' delegates (one employer and one worker for each Member), and their advisers, are chosen by member States "in agreement with the industrial organizations ... which are the most representative of employers or work people ... in their respective countries" (ILO Constitution, Article 3, paragraph 5).

The individual employers' and workers' representatives at the Conference organize themselves into an Employers' and a Workers' Group and (every three years) into an Employers' and Workers' Electoral College which elects the Employer and Worker members respectively of the ILO Governing Body. The Employers' and Workers' groups of the Governing Body nominate the employers' and workers' representatives on the Organization's various consultative bodies. The ILO decision-making process is based on the full involvement of Government, Employers' and Workers' representatives. Numerous international labour Conventions and Recommendations adopted by the International Labour Conference provide for member States to operate procedures that ensure the effective consultation of workers' and employers' organizations or representatives of employers and workers on all matters concerning the activities of the International Labour Organization. These national level consultations complement those established at the international level. The ILO promotes the development of independent employers' and workers' organizations and provides training and advisory services to those organizations.

In addition to the integration of national non-governmental social partners, the Constitution of the ILO also provides for consultative relations with those "recognized non-governmental international organizations, including international organizations of employers, workers, agriculturists and cooperatives".

Three different categories of non-governmental international organizations have been established. The first includes international NGOs with an important interest in a wide range of the ILO's activities that are granted either general or regional consultative status. Standing arrangements have been made for the participation of those enjoying general consultative status in all ILO meetings, and in regional meetings for those with regional consultative status.

A second category, the Special List of Non-Governmental International Organizations, was set up by the ILO Governing Body in 1956 with a view to establishing working relations with international NGOs other than employers' and workers' organizations which also share the principles and objectives of the ILO Constitution and Declaration of Philadelphia. The participation of NGOs in this category depends on their demonstrated interest in the ILO's programme of meetings and activities. There are currently more than 150 NGOs on the Special List, covering a wide variety of fields, such as the promotion of human rights, poverty alleviation, social security, professional rehabilitation, gender issues, and youth matters.

In a third category, the ILO Governing Body extends invitations to international NGOs which meet certain established criteria to attend different ILO meetings for which they have demonstrated a particular interest.

Operational level

Along with the relationships with its non-governmental social partners and international NGOs in the various categories described, the ILO collaborates at the operational level with many other civil society organizations. Among these are local, national and regional organizations, such as professional associations, cooperatives, village development committees, water users' committees, rural or urban credit groups, NGOs concerned with local and national development or human rights, indigenous community organizations, and networks of homeworkers, especially women. All these organizations are involved in ILO technical cooperation activities. To the extent possible, the ILO seeks to ensure tripartite involvement, or the involvement of both social partners, in the implementation of its activities.

In selecting such organizations for development cooperation, preference is usually given to those with relatively long experience in the geographical area or thematic field for which support is sought, and to those which enjoy the trust of the identified beneficiaries and can relate to other social actors, including the government and/or local authorities. Relationships have been established with a wide range of organizations concerned with advocacy, development and human rights. They can perform tasks and undertake activities subcontracted to them by the ILO, and they can also be recipients of support and technical assistance provided by the ILO through, for example, training activities or other advisory services aimed at strengthening their capacity to further the objectives of the ILO. Among the ILO technical cooperation programmes with active non-governmental sector involvement, there are those dealing with the elimination of child labour, poverty alleviation and informal-sector initiatives, and employment creation through enterprise development, particularly at the small and micro-enterprise levels, and cooperatives.

Statutory provisions

The following are the basic provisions applicable to the ILO's relations with NGOs.

ILO Constitution

  1. Article 12, paragraph 3 states "The International Labour Organization may make suitable arrangements for such consultation as it may think desirable with recognized non-governmental international organizations, including international organizations of employers, workers, agriculturalists and cooperators."

Participation in the International Labour Conference

  1. Article 2, paragraph 3 (j) of the Conference Standing Orders specifies those entitled to be admitted to sittings and refers to "representatives of non-governmental international organizations with which it has been decided to establish consultative relationships and with which standing arrangements for such representation have been made and representatives of other non-governmental international organizations which have been invited by the Governing Body to be represented at the Conference;"
  2. Other provisions of the Conference Standing Orders that concern NGOs are found in article 14, paragraph 10, and article 56, paragraph 9.

Requesting an invitation to an ILO meeting

To be represented at a session of the International Labour Conference or at other ILO meetings, non-governmental international organizations require an invitation, to obtain which they must satisfy the criteria and adhere to the following procedure.

The NGO requesting an invitation should —

(a) demonstrate the international nature of its composition and activities, and in this connection it should be represented or have affiliates in a considerable number of countries;

(b) have aims and objectives that are in harmony with the spirit, aims and principles of the Constitution of the ILO and the Declaration of Philadelphia;

(c) have formally expressed an interest - clearly defined and supported by its statutes and by explicit reference to its own activities - in at least one of the items on the agenda of the Conference session to which it requests to be invited: these details should be supplied with the request for an invitation;

(d) have made its request in accordance with the procedure set out in the Standing Orders of the Conference.

For more information, please refer to the Information Note for NGOs (pdf 23kB) - Français (pdf 33kB) - Español (pdf 66kB)

Requests by NGOs for invitations to ILO meetings other than the International Labour Conference are considered in the light of the relevant rules and Standing Orders governing those meetings. Requests must be approved by the ILO Governing Body.

NGOs wishing to be invited as observers at ILO meetings should therefore submit their requests to the Director-General not later than one month before the session of the Governing Body preceding the meeting for which a request is being made.

Admission to the ILO Special List of NGOs

The aims of organizations requesting admission to the ILO Special List should be in harmony with the spirit, aims and principles of the ILO Constitution and the Declaration of Philadelphia. The length of existence, membership, geographical coverage of the organization, its practical achievements and the international nature of its activities constitute the main criteria for such admission. A further requirement is that the organization should have an evident interest in at least one of the fields of activity of the ILO. The fact that an organization has already been granted official status with the Economic and Social Council, or a specialized agency of the United Nations, is relevant but does not necessarily imply inclusion in the Special List of the ILO.

Any non-governmental international organization wishing to be admitted to the Special List is required to forward to the Director-General in one of the working languages of the ILO a copy of its statutes, a list of the names and addresses of its officers, information regarding its composition and the aggregate membership of the national organizations affiliated to it, and a copy of its latest annual report or detailed and verifiable information about its activities.