The International Labour Organization (ILO)

Within the Federal Government, responsibility for matters involving the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva lies with the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.

Germany’s role at the ILO

Within the German government, responsibility for matters involving the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva lies with the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. Germany holds one of the ten permanent titular government seats in the Governing Body of the ILO. All important decisions regarding ILO policies are taken by the Governing Body or at the annual International Labour Conference.

 The International Labour Organization was founded in 1919 under the Treaty of Versailles. This makes it the oldest specialised agency of the United Nations. A special feature of the ILO is its tripartite structure that includes not only representatives of the governments of its member countries but also representatives of labour organisations and employers' associations from these countries as equal partners in its decision-making processes. Today, 187 countries belong to the ILO. Germany is the fourth-largest contributor to the regular ILO budget after the USA, Japan and China.

ILO Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work

In 2019, the ILO celebrated its centenary together with governments and social partners from around the world with the aim of preparing for the future of work and of taking the necessary measures for this future at the national and international levels. For this purpose, the ILO adopted a groundbreaking declaration for the future of work at the International Labour Conference in Geneva.  The Centenary Declaration sets the ILO’s long-term agenda for decent work in a changing world of work and outlines the position the organisation wants to have within the multilateral system. The declaration strives to provide answers to the challenges created by the digital transformation. From a German perspective, it is also important to stress the efforts to include safe and healthy working conditions in the ILO framework of fundamental principles and rights at work and to promote greater coherence within the multilateral system.

The Decent Work Agenda

In order to foster fair globalisation, the ILO developed the Decent Work Agenda and institutionalised it in 2008 in the fundamental Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization. The goals of this declaration are:

  1. productive employment that pays decent wages and offers decent working conditions,
  2. social protection including social security,
  3. social dialogue and
  4. adherence to the ILO’s labour and social standards, especially to what it calls its core labour standards.

In September 2015, all UN Member States signed the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which unequivocally makes decent work for all one of its goals (goal 8).

Setting international labour and social standards

The ILO's labour and social standards are laid down in conventions and recommendations adopted by the International Labour Conference. Once they are ratified by the individual member country, conventions become binding under international law for the respective country. Germany has ratified 85 conventions and two protocols to date, 60 of which are still in force. Germany is thus among the countries with the highest number of ratifications.

Among them are the eight core labour standards, i.e. those conventions that have received special political significance through the 1999 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. The core labour standards spell out four basic principles in more detail: Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, the elimination of discrimination in respect to employment and occupation, the elimination of forced labour and the fight against and abolition of child labour. The basic principles contained in the core labour standards are universal, i.e. they are applicable in all ILO member countries no matter whether they ratified them.

In June 2014, the ILO’s International Labour Conference, with the support of Germany and a broad majority, voted in favour of adopting a legally-binding protocol and a parallel recommendation on banning forced labour with the goal of prevention, prosecution and victim protection. The protocol modernises one of the ILO’s core labour standards, namely the one on forced labour and also especially addresses human trafficking. In June 2019, Federal Labour Minister Hubertus Heil submitted Germany’s instrument of ratification for the ILO protocol to Convention 29 on forced labour to the ILO’s Director-General Guy Ryder. Germany thus joined the efforts of the international community in the worldwide fight against forced labour and human trafficking.

The adoption of Convention No. 190 on violence and harassment in the world of work as part of the ILO’s Centenary in 2019 was the latest step in terms of ILO conventions. Germany welcomes the convention as a key contribution to the protection of employees against sexualised violence and harassment. The convention offers the world’s first definition of violence and sexual harassment and sends a message that the international community has zero tolerance with regard to violence and harassment.

Technical cooperation and assistance

In addition to standard-setting, the ILO also pursues its objectives with the help of technical cooperation measures, first and foremost within the framework of Decent Work Country Programmes, particularly in developing countries. A prime example is the Social Protection Floor Initiative that Germany supports financially. Worldwide, 80 per cent of workers have inadequate social protection or none at all. This is particularly the case among people working in the informal sector.

Vision Zero Fund

G7 leaders launched the "Vision Zero Fund" (VZF) in 2015 at the initiative of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs as a concrete tool to improve occupational safety and health. The VZF is a global prevention funds that aims to prevent severe and especially fatal accidents at work in poorer production countries that produce goods for global supply chains. Germany followed-up on its commitment to the promotion of sustainable global supply chains during its G20 Presidency. The ILO is implementing the fund, which is active in Columbia, Ethiopia, Honduras, Laos, Madagascar, Mexico, Myanmar and Vietnam, and has received more than 20 million euros from six governments and the European Commission for the fund. The fund complements the existing ILO occupational safety and health programmes, the Better Work Programme and initiatives of other international organisations and institutions in this field.