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The International Labour Organization (ILO)

March 27, 2017

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.

ILO Logo.

Germany’s role at the 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 holds one of the ten seats in the Governing Body of the ILO. All important decisions regarding the ILO's policies are taken in the Governing Body and 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 - representatives of labour organisations and employers' associations participate as equal partners in its decision-making processes along with the government representatives of the member countries. Today, 185 countries are members of the ILO. Germany is the third-largest contributor to the regular ILO budget, following the US and Japan.

Germany will actively participate in the ILO’s 2019 centenary activities helping to shape the debates.

In the run-up to its centenary in 2019, the ILO has launched seven Centenary Initiatives (e.g. on the future of work, an end to poverty, women at work) in order to prepare itself for the next century and the challenges it will bring for the world of work. At this point, it is not yet clear whether these initiatives will culminate in a Centenary Declaration.

The Decent Work Agenda

By virtue of its mandate to improve the living and working conditions of workers around the world, the ILO plays a leading role in shaping the social dimension of globalisation. To achieve this goal, the ILO developed the Decent Work Agenda back in 1999 and institutionalised it in the fundamental Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization in 2008. This agenda outlines the ILO's strategy for reducing poverty and for employment on the path to sustainable development. The Decent Work Agenda promotes:

The Decent Work Agenda focuses on:

  1. Productive employment that pays decent wages and offers decent working conditions,
  2. Social protection including social security,
  3. Social dialogue and
  4. Compliance with ILO labour and social standards, particularly the core labour standards.

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

Setting international labour and social standards

The ILO's labour and social standards can be found in conventions and recommendations which have been adopted by the International Labour Conference. Once they are ratified by the individual member country, conventions become binding international law for the respective state. Germany has ratified 85 conventions to date. A total of 59 of them are still in force. They include the eight core labour standards, in other words, the ILO conventions concerning freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining, the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation, the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour, and the effective abolition of child labour. In 1998 the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work declared the core labour standards to be universal ‒ in other words, applicable for all ILO Member States.

Germany belongs to the group of 15 countries which have ratified the most conventions to date.

Technical cooperation and assistance

In addition to establishing standards, 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. Special mention is to be made here of the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) which operates in more than 90 countries and is highly regarded for its success stories. The German government actively supports this and other programmes to implement the Decent Work Agenda.

The Social Protection Floor Initiative, which receives financial support from Germany, is another example in this connection. Worldwide, 80 per cent of all workers have inadequate or no social protection at all. This is particularly the case among people who work in the informal sector. Relevant ILO conventions cover only the formal sector. Since 2006 and with support from the Netherlands Germany has been canvassing support at the ILO and UN level for an initiative that would supplement existing ILO conventions on social security with mechanisms (social protection floors) which also cover the informal sector and support the establishment of basic social security systems. An important step forward was taken in this area in 2012 with the development and adoption of a recommendation concerning national floors of social protection. Targeted efforts must be taken now and in the future to implement this recommendation worldwide. The same goes for the 2015 Recommendation concerning the Transition from the Informal to the Formal Economy.

In June 2014 Germany and a broad majority at the ILO’s International Labour Conference voted in favour of adopting a legally-binding protocol and a parallel recommendation on banning forced labour with the goal of strengthening prevention, prosecution and protection for victims. The protocol modernises the ILO’s convention on forced labour and especially addresses human trafficking. In this context, Germany’s Federal Government has also made the fight against human trafficking for labour exploitation a priority, implementing the mandate laid down in the coalition agreement of the current governing coalition which calls for a greater focus on the issue of labour exploitation in Germany’s efforts to combat human trafficking. Under the leadership of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs a working group composed of the Federal Government and the Länder was set up in February 2015 bringing together all key stakeholders in order to establish effective structures for the fight against human trafficking for labour exploitation.

Decent work in global supply chains

One of the ILO’s current priorities is the promotion of decent work in global supply chains. This issue played a key role at the International Labour Conference in June 2016 in Geneva with the goal of governments, labour organisations and employers adopting joint conclusions. The German Government supports the ILO’s activities and fed the results of the G7 summit, which was held in Elmau in June 2015, into the debate. In Elmau the G7 heads of state and government adopted a number of concrete measures designed to improve the implementation of labour and social standards in global supply chains. Find out more in our special section on "Promoting decent work worldwide: G7 "Standards in Supply Chains" initiative".

In cooperation with the ILO, the G7 announced the establishment of a Vision Zero Fund (VZF) as a concrete tool to improve occupational safety and health. This initiative is being further pursued during Germany’s G20 Presidency. The goal of both the G7 and the G20 is the prevention and reduction of work-related deaths and serious accidents at work in supply chains. The ILO has taken on the leadership role concerning the implementation of 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 addition, Germany is playing an active role in the debate on revising the Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy (MNE Declaration) and supports an up-to-date, modern reformulation of the declaration.