International Labor Organization: A Fact Sheet

CRS Report for Congress
International Labor Organization: A Fact Sheet
Lois McHugh
Analyst in International Relations
Foreign Affairs and National Defense Division
This paper provides basic information on the International Labor Organization
(ILO) and issues of interest to Congress. It is updated periodically. CRS Report 97-942,
The International Labor Organization and International Labor Issues in the 105th
Congress, contains more detailed information on ILO issues of congressional interest.
Background. The ILO was founded in 1919 under the Treaty of Versailles and
associated with the League of Nations. The United States did not join the ILO until 1934,
due to Congress' refusal to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, U.S. refusal to join the League
of Nations, and Senate fears of a free trade "plot" to reduce U.S. protective tariffs. After
World War II, the ILO became a U.N. Specialized Agency. It has 174 member countries
and the fourth largest budget of the U.N. system. Its purpose is to assist governments in
raising labor standards and improving working conditions. It provides technical
assistance through training programs, advisory missions, and surveys. It helps
governments write labor legislation, conducts research and studies on workplace
problems, and offers solutions.
Organization. The ILO structure is unique. In addition to government
representatives from each member country, two additional delegates represent each
member country's employer and employee organizations, theoretically speaking and
voting independently of the government delegates. The International Labor Conference,
comprised of all members, meets in June and is the legislative and policy making body.
The Governing Body sets the agenda for the annual Conference, appoints the Director
General, examines and approves the budget for adoption by the Conference, and directs
the activities of the Conference. It has 56 members; 28 government representatives
(including the United States and nine other permanent members of "chief industrial
importance") and 14 seats each for labor and business representatives. The new ILO
Director General, Juan Somavia of Chile, will take office in March 1999. The
International Labor Office is the permanent staff of the ILO. ILO headquarters is in
Geneva, Switzerland. The ILO has a Washington Liaison Office.
U.S. Participation in the ILO. The United States is represented in the ILO by the
Department of State and the Department of Labor sharing responsibilities as the

Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress

government representative. The labor representative is the AFL/CIO and the business
representative is the U.S. Council for International Business.
Congressional Interests.
Labor Standards. The ILO, as the U.N. agency concerned with setting labor
standards to protect workers’ rights, has adopted 180 multilateral labor standards as
conventions or treaties which are binding when ratified. Seven of these are considered
“core” human rights labor standards, which address basic human rights of workers. (The
United States has adopted only one of the “core” conventions, No. 105 on forced labor.
In May, 1998, the President transmitted no. 111 to the Senate, the core convention on
discrimination in employment.) Although the ILO has no enforcement powers, it has a
well regarded system to supervise how the conventions are applied in member countries,
using independent experts to investigate, evaluate compliance and publish the findings.
Countries often work to comply with the ILO when adverse publicity is imminent. The
June 1998 International Labor Conference adopted a Declaration on Fundamental
Principles and Rights at Work. This declaration states that all ILO members agree to
adhere to the principles of the seven core labor standards, regardless of their level of
development and whether they have ratified them. The ILO members also agreed to
establish procedures for annual reports by all members on compliance with the core
standards, but are still debating how this will be done.
Child Labor Convention. The ILO has always been interested in curbing work by
children. ILO Convention 138 on minimum age for employment is one of the “core”
human rights conventions. Currently, the ILO is developing a new core child labor
convention to focus on the worst forms of child labor, bonded or slave labor, hazardous
working conditions, and employment of very young workers. It is expected to be adopted
at the June 1999 International Labor Conference and be opened for ratification.
ILO Budget. Under the ILO Constitution, members agree to pay a set share of the
budget, which is adopted by a 2/3 majority vote of
all members. The 1998-99 budget is $481 million,
U.S. Contributions to the ILOor $240.5 million per year. The United States pays
(in millions of dollars) 25% of the calendar year budget, but owes (is in
FY 1991$62.0arrears to) the ILO nearly $28 million for previous
FY 1992 54.6years, according to the State Department.
FY 1993 57.3
FY 1994 53.3International Program for the Eliminationof Child Labor (IPEC). The ILO has a highly
FY1995 62.2
FY1996 64.5successful technical assistance program to helpcountries eliminate the worst forms of child labor
FY1997 54.0
FY1998 60.4by providing sustainable alternatives forcommunities. IPEC is currently operating in 30
FY1999 (req)59.8
countries with 23 countries on the waiting list. The
United States has contributed $8.1 million to IPEC
since FY1992. The U.S. contribution is included
in the Labor, Health and Human Services appropriation. For further information on child
labor, see CRS Issue Brief 97052, Child Labor and Public Policy in a Global Setting.