ILO is a specialized agency of the United Nations

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About the ILO
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  What is the ILO?

The International Labour Organization (ILO) is the UN specialized agency which seeks the promotion of social justice and internationally recognized human and labour rights. It was founded in 1919 and is the only surviving major creation of the Treaty of Versailles which brought the League of Nations into being and it became the first specialized agency of the UN in 1946. More history of the ILO.

Strategic objectives

The primary goal of the ILO today is to promote opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity. Decent work is the converging focus of its four strategic objectives:

1) Promote and realise standards and fundamental principles and rights at work
Underlying objectives: Standards and fundamental principles and rights at work;
Child labour;
Normative action
2) Create greater opportunities for women and men to secure decent employment and income
Underlying objectives: Employment policy support;
Knowledge, skills and employability;
Employment creation
3) Enhance the coverage and effectiveness of social protection for all;
Underlying objectives: Social security;
Working conditions
4) Strengthen tripartism and social dialogue
Underlying objectives: Social partners;
Governments and institutions of social dialogue

What it does

Within the framework of its mandate, the ILO engages in the following activities:

  • formulation of international policies and programmes to promote human rights at work, improve working and living conditions and enhance employment opportunities;
  • creation of international labour standards - backed by a unique system to supervise their application - to serve as guidelines for national authorities in putting these policies into action;
  • an extensive programme of international technical cooperation - primarily in the fields of vocational training and vocational rehabilitation; employment policy; labour administration; labour law and industrial relations; working conditions; management development; cooperatives; social security; labour statistics and occupational safety and health - formulated and implemented in an active partnership with the constituents (governments, employers, and workers), to help countries make these policies effective in practice; and
  • training, education, research and publishing activities to help advance all these efforts.


The ILO accomplishes its work through three main bodies, all of which encompass the unique feature of the Organization: its tripartite structure (government, employers, workers).

1. International Labour Conference: The member States of the ILO meet at the International Labour Conference in June of each year, in Geneva. Each member State is represented by two government delegates, an employer delegate and a worker delegate. They are accompanied by technical advisors. It is generally the Cabinet Ministers responsible for labour affairs in their own countries who head the delegations, take the floor and present their governments' points of view.

Employer and worker delegates can express themselves and vote according to instructions received from their organizations. They sometimes vote against each other or even against their government representatives.

The Conference plays a very important role. It establishes and adopts international labour standards. It acts as a forum where social and labour questions of importance to the entire world are discussed. The Conference also adopts the budget of the Organization and elects the Governing Body.

2. The Governing Body is the executive council of the ILO and meets three times a year in Geneva. It takes decisions on ILO's policy. It establishes the programme and the budget which it then submits to the Conference for adoption. It also elects the Director-General.

The GB is composed of 28 government members, 14 employer members and 14 worker members. Ten of the government seats are permanently held by States of chief industrial importance. Representatives of other member countries are elected at the Conference every three years, taking into account geographical distribution. The employers and workers elect their own representatives respectively.

3. The International Labour Office is the permanent secretariat of the International Labour Organization and focal point for the overall activities that it prepares under the scrutiny of the Governing Body and under the leadership of a Director-General, who is elected for a five-year renewable term. The Office employs some 1,900 officials of over 110 nationalities at the Geneva headquarters and in 40 field offices and Multi-disciplinary Teams (MDTs) around the world. In addition, some 600 experts undertake missions in all regions of the world under the programme of technical cooperation. The Office also constitutes a research and documentation centre and a printing house issuing a broad range of specialized studies, reports and periodicals.

Updated by AA. Approved by KN. Last update: 8 October 2003.