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Labour law (international)

International Labour Standards

The ILO is the source of international labour law that is embodied in its Conventions and Recommendations and the documents that emanate from the supervisory mechanism responsible for the application of those international labour standards. The ILO's Conventions are international treaties, subject to ratification by ILO member States. Its Recommendations are non-binding instruments -- typically dealing with the same subjects as Conventions.

The texts of Conventions and Recommendations are available online via the NORMLEX database. These documents are available in hard copy in the ILO Library.

Consult the NORMLEX country profiles to find information on national labour law and the application of international labour standards.

ILO supervisory system

The application of international labour standards is enforced by ILO supervisory mechanism established under various articles of the ILO Constitution. Under Article 19 member States are required to report at appropriate intervals on non-ratified Conventions and on Recommendations indicating the extent to which effect has been given or is proposed to be given to those instruments. Under Article 22, reports are periodically requested from States which have ratified ILO Conventions.

NORMLEX brings together information on International Labour Standards (such as ratification information, reporting requirements, comments of the ILO's supervisory bodies, etc.) as well as national labour and social security laws. It includes the NATLEX database as well as the information which was previously contained in ILOLEX, APPLIS and LIBSYND databases.

A thorough understanding of international labour standards and the structure of the supervisory systems is essential for effective use of the NORMLEX database. It is suggested that you consult the International Labour Standards web site or consult the following publication: Rules of the game: A brief introduction to international labour standards, 2014 (pdf 631 KB)

The ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work

The ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its Follow-up, adopted by the International Labour Conference at its 86th Session, 18 June 1998, marked a renewed universal commitment amongst Members, even if they have not ratified the Conventions in question, to respect, promote and realize these principles: freedom of association, effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining, elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour, effective abolition of child labour and elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

The Follow-up is promotional in nature; it will provide a new avenue for the flow of information about these rights and principles as they relate to economic and social development needs. It also makes clear that the follow-up is not a substitute for the established supervisory mechanism for ILO Conventions and Recommendations.

Less formal standards

The annual International Labour Conference, as well as other ILO bodies, often agree upon documents less formal than Conventions and Recommendations. These take such forms as codes of conduct, resolutions and declarations. These documents are often intended to have a normative effect but are not referred to as part of the ILO's system of international labour standards.

Multinational enterprises

The ILO Governing Body's Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy, 2006 (pdf 212 KB) is perhaps the most well known of the "informal" international labour standards. In the complex and controversial area of the activities of multinational enterprises and social policy, the ILO has established principles -- interlinked with its international labour standards -- which should govern the relationship of governments and the social partners. The Tripartite Declaration is a voluntary code, the result of a consensus between governments, employers and workers. It is the only universal text relating to the labour and social aspect of the activities of multinational enterprises. Its principles in the fields of employment, training, conditions of work and life and industrial relations address governments, employers, including multinational enterprises and workers.

Information on the Tripartite Declaration and documents related to its reporting mechanism can be found in the NORMLEX database and at Multinational Enterprises's website.

Resolutions and conclusions

In addition to Conventions and Recommendations, there are Resolutions adopted by the International Labour Conference and various other ILO organs, such as technical committees of experts, regional conferences and technical meetings. They are available online in full-text in Labordoc, the ILO Library's database.

In general, resolutions and conclusions respond to specific situations and needs which makes them particularly valuable when planning the ILO's technical cooperation activities. They may cover specific categories of workers or deal in a detailed manner with particular technical themes, sometimes including new definitions and concepts and the most recent socioeconomic developments on which the Organization expresses itself. Often, such resolutions and conclusions give the international labour standards a fresh and sometimes new emphasis.

Codes of conduct

Some work of the ILO's technical departments involves further developing, amplifying and adding detail (for purposes of technical assistance) to international labour standards. The result often comes in the form of guidelines or codes of conduct which provide important practical ideas about the implementation of international labour standards. For example, in the maritime sector, guidelines have been produced for maritime industry labour legislation and inspection of labour conditions on board ship. There are also many useful guidelines produced in the occupational safety and health area. Codes of conduct can be found in the ILO Library.

Access to these materials is provided through the ILO Library's database Labordoc.