The International Labour Organization (ILO) - Purposes

The aims and objectives of the ILO were set forth in the preamble to its constitution, drawn up in 1919. The preamble declares that "universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice." Hence, the basic objective of the organization is to help improve social conditions throughout the world. The following examples of concrete measures "urgently required" are specifically mentioned in the preamble: regulation of the hours of work, including the establishment of a maximum working day and week; regulation of the labor supply; prevention of unemployment; provision of an adequate living wage; protection of the worker against sickness, disease, and injury arising out of his or her employment; protection of children, young persons, and women; provision for old age and injury; protection of the interests of workers when employed in countries other than their own; recognition of the principle of equal remuneration for work of equal value; and recognition of the principle of freedom of association.

International action in these matters is required, the preamble makes clear, because "the failure of any nation to adopt humane conditions of labor is an obstacle in the way of other nations which desire to improve the conditions in their own countries." Finally, in agreeing to the ILO constitution, the member governments declare in the preamble that they are "moved by sentiments of justice and humanity as well as by the desire to secure the permanent peace of the world."

Meeting in Philadelphia in 1944, the International Labour Conference adopted a declaration that rephrased and broadened the "aims and purposes" of the ILO and "the principles which should inspire the policy of its members." President Roosevelt stated that the Declaration of Philadelphia, as it was called, summed up the aspirations of an epoch that had known two world wars and that it might well acquire a historical significance comparable to that of the US Declaration of Independence. The declaration, which was incorporated into the amended constitution of the ILO, affirms that labor is not a commodity; that freedom of expression and association are essential to sustained progress; that poverty anywhere constitutes a danger to prosperity everywhere; and that the war against want must be carried on not only with unrelenting vigor within each nation but also by "continuous and concerted international effort in which the representatives of workers and employers, enjoying equal status with those of Governments, join with them in free discussion and democratic decision with a view to the promotion of the common welfare."

The Declaration of Philadelphia recognizes the "solemn obligation" of the ILO to further among nations of the world programs that will achieve the following:

  • full employment and the raising of standards of living;
  • employment of workers in the occupations for which they are best suited and where they can make their greatest contribution to the common well-being;
  • facilities for training and the transfer of labor, including migration for employment and settlement;
  • policies in regard to wages and earnings, hours, and other conditions of work calculated to ensure a just share of the fruits of progress to all and a minimum living wage to all employed and in need of such protection;
  • effective recognition of the right of collective bargaining, the cooperation of management and labor in the continuous improvement of productive efficiency, and the collaboration of workers and employers in the preparation and application of social and economic measures;
  • extension of social security measures to provide a basic income to all in need of such protection and comprehensive medical care;
  • adequate protection for the life and health of workers in all occupations;
  • child welfare and maternity protection;
  • adequate nutrition, housing, and facilities for recreation and culture; and
  • assurance of equality of educational and vocational opportunity.

Since 1994 the ILO has been involved in a process of modernizing and strengthening its labor standards system.

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