The Development of International Labour Standards and Their Increasing Influence

Until the 1990s, policy makers, legislators, industrial relations practitioners and commentators did not give any attention to the role of international standards in the development of labor law. However, there is increasing acceptance around the world that the principles expressed in the International Labour Organisation’s fundamental documents can be used as a reference point for the development of legislation and policy frameworks for labour law in different countries including the United States. Labour standards adopted under the auspices of the International Labour Organisation have had a number of influences on the development of the labor law systems of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and the United States as well as a number of other common law countries. Most notably, there increasing influence of the international labor organisation’s standards in Indian labor law.

The United Nations has promoted the adoption of a number of instruments dealing with discrimination in employment in particular which have received international attention from a number of countries. These standards focused on the elements of race, gender and age. Some of the agreements ratified by a number of countries include the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and in some limited circumstances the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The International Labor organisation was founded as part of the Versailles Treaty at the end of World War I. It originally functioned as part of the league of nations system but survived the demise of this organisation and has since operated as an agency of the United Nations. There are the ‘conference’ of the ILO, the governing body and the International Labour Office. The conference is colloquially known as the ‘parliament’ of the ILO. It makes the ILO unique because its decision making processes are not the exclusive right of the member states of the United Nations. It also debates matters which are of general interest to the international community as represented by non-governmental organisations. There is then the governing body of the organisation which is a bit like the cabinet or the executive of the organisation and finally there is the Labour office which is based in Geneva and operates in a similar manner to the bureaucracy of a government. In many cases, the development of international labour standards is performed through the Labour office in consultation with representatives from a number of the member of states. Through this process, the development of international labour standards is achieved.