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The Declaration of Philadelphia – 75 years

On May 10 1944, the International Labour Conference adopted the Declaration of Philadelphia. It gave the ILO’s social mandate a powerful and lasting impetus.

Press release | 10 May 2019
Roosevelt and Phelan signing the Declaration of Philadelphia in 1944
GENEVA (ILO News) – Seventy-five years ago the Declaration of Philadelphia was unanimously adopted by the International Labour Conference (ILC) at its meeting in Philadelphia, United States. The text gave the ILO's social mandate a powerful new impetus.

Forty-one member States sent their delegates to the meeting. At that time, the ILO Secretariat was temporarily operating from Montreal, Canada, having relocated because of the conflict in Europe. With the end of the war in sight the ILO sought to reaffirm its founding principles and adapt them to emerging new realities and the aspirations for a better world. The Declaration of Philadelphia was the articulation of this vision.

"This Declaration is the crown and confirmation of the efforts of those who drew up the Constitution twenty-five years ago,” said Edward Phelan, ILO Acting Director and principal author of the Declaration. “It sets a North Star by which national and international authorities may steer their course with greater certainty than heretofore towards the promotion of the common welfare of mankind as the destination which must be reached whatever economic storms may be encountered."

US Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins showing a drawing of the "ILO above the storm" to Edward Phelan in 1944
Following the ILC, the adopted document was ceremonially signed at the White House in Washington DC, at President Franklin D. Roosevelt's desk.

The Declaration extended the scope of the ILO’s work by affirming the centrality of human rights for all people. It stated that this should be the central aim of all national and international policies, and upheld the need for the ILO to examine and consider "all international economic and financial policies and measures in the light of this fundamental objective."

The Declaration of Philadelphia can be seen as one of the visionary documents which contributed to shaping the global order after the Second World War, and which set out the guiding principles for national economic and social policies within that order.

In 1946, the Declaration was annexed to the ILO Constitution, and since then has served to inspire other international instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The foundational principles of the Declaration remain as relevant as they were 75 years ago, and continue to inspire the ILO's work as it enters its second century.