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Human Rights at Work

The International Labour Organization and Human Rights
Access to the ILO

by Lee Swepston ©

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All the ILO Conventions mentioned in this article may be found in the ILOLEX data base, on the ILO site: http://www.ilo.org


If it seems strange to write a homage to Jakob Möller in the form of an article on how the ILO works, there are two reasons for which it is perfectly appropriate. The first is that this is what the editors of this book asked. It has become a traditional form of homage, and speaking of one's own specialty is always a pleasant way to honour someone else.

But in this case it is more appropriate than usual. Jakob Möller dedicated his professional life, in the many years I knew him at the United Nations, to the very idea of widening the protection of international human rights through improved access to the system. It therefore makes me feel somewhat less awkward than one often does in such homages, to speak of how this is done in a sister organization to the one in which he worked, and which forms part of the same system.

History and structure of the International Labour Organization

It is necessary to begin with some explanation of how the ILO works, as it is quite different from the United Nations and other purely intergovernmental organizations. This is turn sets the stage for the explanation of how access to the ILO is gained, and how it is evolving.

The ILO is the oldest of the UN-system organizations dealing with human rights. If its character as a human rights organization is only recently being recognized by human rights activists1, this is perhaps because it has usually avoided a ‘human rights' rhetoric in its long history. Established in 1919 at the same time as the League of Nations, the ILO formed half the international system at the time. The League's collapse may be attributed to the fact that the world was not yet ready for an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the idea of fomenting peace between nations. If the ILO survived, of course this might be attributed to the fact that it was perceived as less of a threat to territorial ambition - but it is also because it embodied an idea whose time had come. The ILO was established to protect the rights of individuals and their organizations, in a particular but very wide field. It has taken a technical approach to the rights of workers, and has usually preferred to express its aim as the pursuit of social justice rather than of human rights. However, events in the last decade or so have forced it ‘out of the closet', so to speak, into becoming a more assertive party to human rights deliberations at the national and international levels.

History of the ILO.
As the industrial revolution took hold, so did public awareness of harsh working conditions and of the need for their regulation. As this social regulation began to take form, both industrialists and trade unions became concerned that exploitation of workers in other countries could undermine the profitability of international trade on the one hand, and the growth of the concept of workers' rights on the other.

Early attempts to create an international regulatory mechanism for protecting workers' rights yielded some progress but little practical effect. Efforts to expand them were thwarted by the outbreak of World War I. During the War, trade union organizations from both sides of the conflict agreed that a mechanism for international labour legislation should be created. These led to the inclusion of workers' representatives in the Peace Conference, and to proposals by a number of governments, especially France and Great Britain, for international labour legislation to be adopted at the Conference. The establishment of the International Labour Organization was thus included in the Peace Treaty, and its first Constitution was Part XIII of the Treaty of Versailles concluded in 1919.

At its first Conference that same year, the ILO began the task of adopting international labour legislation in the form of Conventions and Recommendations. Among them were instruments on child labour, protection of women in the work place and forced labour, all subjects which continue as active concerns of the human rights movement today. With the outbreak of World War II, the League of Nations met its end but the ILO survived. It was reanimated with the adoption of the Declaration of Philadelphia in 1944, which restated and modernized its aims, and was incorporated into the Constitution in 1946. The Declaration expanded the field of action of the ILO, based on the relationship between labor and economic, social and financial questions. Its renewed mandate was stated in the Declaration in terms of human values and aspirations, prefiguring the human rights language the nascent United Nations was soon to adopt: ‘all human beings, irrespective of race, creed or sex, have the right to pursue both their material well-being and their spiritual development in conditions of freedom and dignity, of economic security and equal opportunity'.2The ILO became the first specialized agency of the United Nations system in 1945.

Structure.
The ILO has a unique structure among international organizations. It is an inter-governmental organization, but its decision-making bodies are tripartite. This means that all ILO bodies, with only a few exceptions3 are composed of representatives of workers and employers as well as governments. Each member State is required to send to the annual International Labour Conference two government delegates, and one representative each of the most representative organizations of employers and of workers.4Thus, in the plenary of the Conference, as well as in the Governing Body of the International Labour Office, governments have 50% of the vote, and employers and workers 25% each. At the committee level of the Conference, the power is even more divided, with each group having one-third of the total voting power. This pattern has profound implications for the ILO's decision-making structures. It makes the ILO the only inter-governmental body in which governments do not have all the votes, and in which non-governmental organizations are given a formal role in deciding on the organization's policies. This is of course an important aspect of the ‘access' focus of the present article.

International labour standards and human rights.
The ILO was created to adopt international standards to improve the situation of working people. It adopts Conventions - binding on countries which ratify them - and Recommendations, which have the force of declarations and indications of best practice. Since the ILO's establishment in 1919 it has adopted 181 Conventions (as of 1997) which have garnered some 6,500 ratifications by member States. Accompanying them are 188 Recommendations.

The original ILO Constitution had taken the position that 'lasting universal peace can only be established if it is based upon social justice', and that it was for this reason that working conditions had to be improved. In the Declaration of Philadelphia the ILO moved into human rights territory by stating its aims in terms of human values and aspirations: ‘all human beings, irrespective of race, creed or sex, have the right to pursue their material well-being and their spiritual development in conditions of freedom and dignity, of economic security and equal opportunity.' This launched a period of 12 years of intense human rights standard-setting by the ILO, culminating in 1958, fuelled both by its own imperatives and by UN requests to the ILO. These standards were, in turn, the basis for the labor-related provisions in the two human rights Covenants adopted by the United Nations in 1966 to translate the Universal Declaration into more binding form. The ILO has since then adopted other human rights Conventions developing the basic concepts established during those years.

What the ILO has come to consider as its fundamental human rights standards, are those covering four basic subjects: freedom of association and protection of the right to organize, and freedom from forced labour, child labour and discrimination. Although these concepts are covered in more or less detail in many ILO standards on specific questions, there are seven Conventions generally held to embody the ‘core principles' of the ILO on these questions:

  • Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, 1948 (No. 87)
  • Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining, 1949 (No. 98)
  • Forced Labour, 1930 (No. 29)
  • Abolition of Forced Labour, 1957 (No. 105)
  • Equal Remuneration, 1950 (No. 100)
  • Discrimination (Employment and Occupation), 1958 (No. 111)
  • Minimum Age, 1973 (No. 138)

Each of these Conventions except No. 138 has received over 120 ratifications - with Convention No. 29 being the most ratified at 145 (as at 15 October 1997). This gives them great authority, as they approach universal ratification, at levels equal to or beyond the ratification rates of the UN's basic instruments (with the notable exception of the phenomenal Convention on the Rights of the Child). Convention No. 138, with only 55 ratifications, lags far behind, but it is in fact a highly technical instrument regulating the age of admission to employment and work and not a true ‘human rights' type Convention. For this reason, the International Labour Conference will adopt a new instrument on the most intolerable forms of child labour at its 1999 session, taking a human rights approach and completing the ILO's panoply of instruments on these basic human rights subjects.5

As indicated, these are only the most prominent instruments in the ILO's human rights arsenal. There are a number of other standards on different aspects of almost all these questions. For instance, there were 10 earlier Conventions regulating age of admission to employment in different sectors, adopted between 1919 and 1972. On discrimination, many ILO standards take an approach of non-discrimination as the focus or as an aspect of their approach - on women, disabled workers, workers with family responsibilities, migrant workers, indigenous and tribal peoples, and many others.

In addition, many other subjects covered by ILO standards have implications for human rights in the broader sense of the term. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the UN's two international Covenants on human rights, bring into the human rights ambit such subjects as safety and health at work, the right to a fair and reasonable wage, access to social security, etc. Without going into detail here, the ILO has adopted standards on most aspects of working life, including many that fall within the coverage of these standards of the United Nations. A truly integrated approach to human rights requires that one take a wider look at all the questions that affect a decent life, and the ability to provide for oneself and one's family an existence worthy of human dignity. Thus, to implement human rights fully, such subjects as labour inspection, chemicals in the working atmosphere, and the practical working of the right to complain of discrimination, all need to be examined. It is sometimes difficult to convince human rights activists that they can make a more practical contribution to protecting human rights if they examine the number and quality of labour inspectors, than if they make a general complaint of violation of human rights. It is almost always less glamourous - and almost always more effective.

The supervision of ILO standards

The ILO has a uniquely thorough and influential supervisory system6. When a Convention has been ratified, a government is required by article 22 of the ILO Constitution to send periodic reports7 to the International Labour Office. At the same time, it is required by article 23(2) of the Constitution to send copies of these reports to the most representative organizations of employers and of workers in the country (often governments send reports to a number of organizations). In turn, workers' and employers' organizations have the right to make their own comments on these reports - and this right is not limited to the organizations that receive copies of the report, but extends to any such organizations anywhere in the world. Present reporting volume is about 2,000 government reports a year, and some 300 supplementary comments by employers' and workers' organizations.

Governments' reports and the supplementary information available are examined by the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations, a body of 20 independent experts drawn from all economic and social systems. They issue an annual report composed of a general report and a large number of observations, or published comments. These are supplemented by a much larger number of direct requests, which are not published but are sent directly to governments.8 These comments by the Committee of Experts contain questions, requests for amendments to national law and practice, and a great deal of information on the situation in each country. The Committee's report containing its observations is submitted to the International Labour Conference9, where it is discussed by a tripartite Conference Committee on the Application of Standards. This Committee selects a certain number of observations to discuss, and invites governments to appear before it to account for themselves (about 30 at each session).10

Most supervision of standards in the ILO takes place as part of this regular examination of reports, but the ILO Constitution also allows for two kinds of complaints procedures. Under article 24 of the Constitution, organizations of employers and of workers may make representations that a government has not taken measures to ensure the satisfactory observance of a Convention it has ratified. This leads to an examination by a tripartite committee of the Governing Body, and the eventual issuance of a report detailing any problems in observance and recommendations for improvement, if necessary. Article 26 of the Constitution allows for complaints to be filed by governments of other countries that have ratified the same Convention, by delegates to the International Labour Conference, and by the Governing Body itself. A complaint is examined by a special Commission of Inquiry. These Commissions hold hearings in Geneva, visit the country concerned for on-the-spot investigations, and publish their findings in a special edition of the ILO's Official Bulletin.11 Both kinds of complaints are followed up by the Committee of Experts after the procedure is concluded, so the findings do not get forgotten.

Special procedures have been established for freedom of association. By agreement with the United Nations Economic and Social Council in 1950, the tripartite Governing Body Committee on Freedom of Association examines complaints of violations of constitutional principles of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining from workers' and employers' organizations and - theoretically, at least - from governments. This does not depend on the ratification of the related ILO Conventions, a nearly unique facility in international law. The Fact-Finding and Conciliation Commission on Freedom of Association is a more formal procedure for examining the same category of complaints, and depends on the consent of the government concerned to proceed. It is similar to the Commission of Inquiry in its workings. The FFCC even has the peculiarity that it can be applied against a State that is not a Member of the ILO, if the country concerned agrees to this - and this has happened twice, once with regard to the United States during a brief absence from the ILO, and once against South Africa toward the end of its 30 years of exile from membership.

Article 19, para. 5(e) of the Constitution provides the ILO with another facility. It provides that member States may be required to report .... . This provision was included in the Constitution in 1946 to allow the ILO to request information from its Members on the obstacles to ratification, and has been used since then to request reports for what it known as ‘General Surveys'. These extremely useful studies carried out by the Committee of Experts involve a request to all countries that have not ratified Conventions selected by the Governing Body each year, as well as to all countries with regard to Recommendations, and an examination of obstacles to ratification. They constitute a useful review of the way certain instruments are applied in the absence of ratification, as well as a review of whether the instruments concerned require revision. Its use has been developed further in recent years, and in 1995 the Governing Body decided to request reports every year from member States that had not yet ratified the fundamental human rights Conventions, one subject each year. It is being cited, at this writing, as the Constitutional basis for a proposed new procedure to allow examination of fundamental principles on a much wider basis. This provision is extremely powerful, and has proven very useful in promoting ratification. It is given prominence here because article 23(2) of the Constitution provides that workers' and employers' organizations may submit their comments also on reports filed under article 19, another possibility for NGO access to the ILO's supervisory possibilities.

This panoply of supervisory procedures has been highly effective, especially compared to other supervisory bodies in the international system. A high rate of reporting12, acceptance by virtually all States invited to appear before the Conference Committee, and a large number of complaints examined by the Committee on Freedom of Association attest to a general respect for the procedure. It is also effective in securing modifications of law and practice in member States in a high number of countries, and is generally well respected. The ILO reinforces its supervisory activity by ensuring that its technical cooperation is closely based on its standards, and that no technical assistance is given which would be contrary to those standards.

The system also suffers weaknesses, and recent work has been going on to try to strengthen it. The discussion on a possible ‘social clause'13 has led to proposals to put ‘teeth' into the ILO's supervision. Discussions during the 75th Anniversary of the ILO in 1994 also led to the launching of a system of reforms, including a pruning of the large number of active standards by revision, ‘shelving' of certain older standards, and even proposals for abrogation of outdated Conventions - a constitutional amendment to allow abrogation was adopted in 1997, and is awaiting sufficient ratification to enter into force. Discussions are underway for the establishment of procedures to examination the application of fundamental rights other than freedom of association, in the absence of ratification.

NGO Access to ILO procedures

Some critics14 point to the lack of access to the ILO's procedures by non-governmental organizations other than employers' and workers' organizations, and to the absence of individual complaints procedures. Unlike the other points mentioned above, these are not on the ILO's agenda for change. What is the present situation, and how might change be envisaged?

In a very important sense, NGOs enjoy far more access to the ILO than to any other inter-governmental organization. This article has outlined above the tripartite nature of the ILO, so that non-governmental organizations of employers and workers have half the votes in the plenary sessions of the annual Conference - thus, both for the adoption of new standards and for adoption of the reports of the Conference Committee on Standards. In that committee itself, as well as in the vital Committee on Freedom of Association, ILO rules give workers, employers and governments one-third of the voting power each, so that non-governmental delegates actually outvote governments. The same applies in all committees of the Conference, including the Committee on the Application of Standards.

Outside the formal decision-making bodies of the ILO, these organizations also enjoy unparalleled access to the ILO's machinery. Mention has been made of the requirement for governments to send copies of their reports to workers' and employers' organizations, and of the right of these organizations to submit their own reports. They also have the right to submit representations under article 24 of the Constitution; and in their capacity as delegates to the Conference, they can submit the more formal complaints under article 26 of the Constitution (for instance, the Commission of Inquiry concerning allegations of massive forced labour in Myanmar referred to above).

Just as important, ILO rules and standards give employers' and workers organizations a prominent role at the national level in the implementation and supervision of ILO standards. Many Conventions require governments to consult these organizations on their application, or even to involve them formally in implementing bodies at the national level. An important ILO Convention - Tripartite Consultation (International Labour Standards), 1976 (No. 144), so far ratified by 81 countries - increases the level of consultation and participation of these organizations in national decision-making on what to do about ILO standards, including whether to ratify or denounce them and how implement them.

Other NGOs.

Nevertheless, many NGOs other than workers' and employers' organizations, complain of restricted access to the ILO. For most of the ILO's history, this has been of limited significance, because of its concentration on workers' rights and labour subjects. These traditionally have drawn little attention from other NGOs, more interested in higher-profile human rights issues connected mostly with civil and political rights.

However, the world has changed, and with it the ILO's interest for many other NGOs. The question of trade and labour rights has had a great deal to do with this, as attention to the exploitation of workers by child labour or bonded labour and other abuses grows. This has led the ILO to redefine its traditional 'technical' working methods, to enter the arena previously dedicated to civil and political rights, and to adopt some of the techniques usually reserved for those domains.

It has also changed because of the undeniable fact that workers' and employers' organizations are less representative in some developed countries than they once were, with the loss of membership of trade unions. In developing countries, on the other hand, their numbers are often booming with the freedom newly acquired at the fall of dictatorships and with entry into the market economy. Employers' organizations at the national level, for their part, tend these days to be less representative of the national economy than in earlier years, with the growth of multinational corporations and the breakdown of national economic borders. Even governments often have less control over national economies with globalization of the economy and changes in economic patterns, as well as the establishment of regional economic bodies such as the European Union, NAFTA and MERCOSUR.

What access do NGOs other than employers' and workers' organizations have to the ILO? Examined closely, it is quite appreciable though different from what they enjoy at the UN.

The ILO Special List.

Consultative status with the ILO is limited to a few international employers' and workers' organizations, which have more access than the same term implies in the United Nations, for instance. The ILO has another kind of status, called înclusion on the Special List of NGOs', for all other non-governmental organizations. This list is available for international NGOs other than occupational ones, which share the values and goals of the ILO. Inclusion is by decision of the Governing Body, and it entitles NGOs to receive information and to be invited to ILO meetings on request.

Right to intervene.

Under the Standing Orders of the ILO Conference, NGOs may only attend sessions of the Conference as observers if they have requested and received an invitation from the Governing Body.15 NGOs attending the session have the right to intervene in a committee with the permission of the Chairman and the two Vice-Chairmen (i.e., the spokespersons for the employers' and workers' members in the committee). This is used rarely, as few non-occupational NGOs attend the ILO Conference, and those that do almost never request the floor.

The principal exception until now was the Conference sessions in 1988 and 1989 when the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (No. 169) was adopted. In that case special arrangements, which have been described elsewhere,16 were made to allow representatives of the groups concerned to take an active part in the discussions. Briefly, the Conference noted that this was a special case in which the ILO's traditional NGO partners did not represent the interests of the group whose situation was being examined, and made space in its procedures for them to participate. This was done by a combination of the formal procedures in the Standing Orders, and an accommodation through more informal means. Notable in this respect was the close working relationship established between the indigenous peoples' caucus and the Workers' Group of the Conference Committee concerned, by which the workers submitted directly to the discussions the amendments to the text proposed by the indigenous caucus. The result was probably the most direct participation by NGOs that has ever taken place in the adoption of international standards.17 Another exception is coming up as this article is completed, with the first of two discussions in 1998 of a new child labour Convention, in which NGOs are expressing a lively interest.18

Information.

Another kind of access is via information, both providing and receiving it. The ILO's supervisory processes are numerous, detailed and (mostly) public. NGOs can gain a great deal of information from the reports of the Committee of Experts, the Conference Committee on Standards, and the Committee on Freedom of Association. Other sources, such as the reports of committees on representations and complaints, can also provide both valuable information and authority to press for changes when the situation in countries has been found not to live up to the requirements of ILO standards. NGOs can then use this information also with such bodies as national courts - especially when ratified international treaties have force of law in the country.

Another way in which information and findings from ILO supervision can be useful is with UN and regional supervisory bodies. In spite of the ILO's regular submission of information to the UnitedNations, the UN 'Treaty Bodies' do not always take into account all the information submitted to them. Their members work under pressure, and with a minimum of secretariat assistance. NGOs working on the situations which these bodies are examining will often find much ammunition for their causes in the ILO's reports on the same subjects, and can help to bring this to the attention of the UN bodies. The same applies to the Commission on Human Rights and its subsidiary bodies, which often discuss situations more or less directly related to ILO standards - child labour, discrimination, forced labour an slavery, migrant workers, indigenous and tribal peoples, and others. It is all too rare that the representatives of Foreign Ministries which usually form delegates to these meetings, are aware of the work in the ILO, which comes under the aegis of another ministry; governments have as much problem with internal coordination as they criticize within the UN system. These bodies have an unfortunate tendency to believe that if something has not happened at the United Nations, it is not human rights. NGOs which bring the work of the ILO and the rest of the UN system to the attention of these bodies are making a real contribution to the consistency of international human rights law, and more often than not are promoting the aims they were established to promote. The same considerations also apply to regional human rights bodies, to which NGOs sometimes enjoy considerable access.

NGOs can also submit information to the ILO. Their direct access is limited, because they have no standing to bring a complaint or to have the information they provide taken publicly into account by the ILO, as it does with employers' and workers' information. There are several ways around this, though. One is to form an alliance with a trade union or employers' organization, and persuade that organization to submit information directly to the ILO. This means that the union or employers' organization endorses the NGO information and submits it as its own. This can take one of two forms. First, the workers' or employers' organization could submit it as a comment under article 23(2) of the ILO Constitution - i.e., to refute or supplement a government report. It would then be considered by the Committee of Experts, and the government concerned asked to comment on it. Eventually it could be considered by the Conference Committee, if it is included in an observation. This mode is usually a more rapid way of bringing problems to the ILO's attention than using one of the formal complaints mechanisms, and is more likely to be acceptable to workers' and employers' bodies. The second way is nevertheless for the information from the NGO to be submitted as a representation by the employers' or workers' organization under article 24 of the Constitution. A third way resembles the way in which NGOs have traditionally worked at the United Nations, that is by feeding information to delegates at the ILO Conference when situations are being discussed in the Committee on the Application of Standards. All these means have been used successfully in recent years, to bring to the ILO's attention matters that are not within the direct interest of trade unions, but which they are glad to bring to the ILO. Finally, ILO bodies frequently take account of information submitted by NGOs to UN bodies.

There is another, more direct way of submitting information to the ILO. As indicated, lack of access really means only lack of standing to begin a procedure - and the ILO does not function principally as a complaints-driven supervisory body. However, if objective information relevant to the application of a Convention is made available to the ILO - a new law or regulation, a court judgement, government statistics that the ILO has not learned of from other sources - this can have a great effect on the ILO's analysis of a situation. The International Labour Office does not assess the value of such information on the basis of its source, but simply on the basis of whether it is accurate and objectively verifiable. The ILO secretariat often has the occasion to explain to NGOs that accusations of violation of standards, from any source, which rely on general accusations and on broad assertions, are of little use to a supervisory system which is rigorously based on evaluation of law and practice. Objective and verifiable information, on the other hand, will always be useful, and will always be used.

NGOs sometimes have direct access.

Even the most concrete rules have exceptions. In the ILO's case, there are two major ones.

When the ILO is examining a complaint under article 26 of the ILO Constitution via a Commission of Inquiry, the Commission calls witnesses. Practice through the years has been that the Commission may request any knowledgeable person or body to provide information, including NGOs other than occupational ones. Even if these organizations cannot initiate complaints, they can take part in their examination by gathering and submitting detailed and objective information to their proceedings. This is of course most important when a commission of Inquiry is examining complaints outside the field of freedom of association, and has been used particularly in association with two major inquiries on forced labour - the first with regard to forced labour in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and second in the procedure instituted in 1996 as concerns forced labour in Myanmar.

Another way for NGOs to work with the ILO is to take part in its practical activities of assistance to the most excluded sectors of the population. In Geneva, we tend to only see the NGOs that act as advocacy groups in the international system. In some of the least developed countries, NGOs do the practical work at the national and community levels that government is unable, or sometimes unwilling, to do - advocacy in courts, direct assistance to children and the poor, or political mobilization of disadvantaged groups such as ethnic minorities or indigenous and tribal peoples. The ILO often works closely with these NGOs in ‘the field', especially when the trade unions and employers' organizations do not work actively in those areas. This in turn informs the ILO of the attitudes and priorities of such organizations, and provides the access that partners always enjoy - to influence the ways of working and of thinking of outside development agencies.

Future prospects for increased access

As indicated above, NGOs have remarkable access to the ILO, and significant limitations on this access in many situations. International advocacy NGOs complain of lack of ability to intervene at will in ILO meetings, and the absence of individual complaints procedures. Quite frankly, neither of these subjects is on the ILO's agenda for discussion. What we have seen instead is increasing sophistication of NGOs about the benefits they can gain from working with the ILO, and a growing recognition that it is not the United Nations. Thus, they are learning to work with the ILO in ways that draw on its strengths and complement its weaknesses.

A good example is the Society of Friends (the Quakers). Having taken an interest in the ILO's work on the social clause, they have carefully followed all the meetings on the subject, and have learned the workings of the ILO system. They have made themselves an information resource available to members of ILO deliberative organs on the question, and have expanded their interest beyond the social cluse as such to the ILO's other work to improve labour standards. Of most interest, they have acted as a coordinating body to inform other NGOs interested in the economics side of international affairs of the ILO's work; and have convened a series of informal fora at which ILO staff, members of ILO bodies, NGOs and government representatives can meet to inform each other and to discuss the impact of globalization on international trade and conditions of work and life.

Another example is Amnesty International, which has a more classic human rights approach. It has taken the pains to become informed of ILO's procedures, and has mounted several campaigns on the rights of trade unionists. This is of course a subject at once well within the mandate of Amnesty when trade unionists are arrested for expressing their convictions; and directly within the ILO's field of action. Other campaigns, issued immediately before the annual sessions of the Conference, highlight other Amnesty concerns that are likely to be of concern to the human rights world such as forced labour and discrimination. Amnesty's concerns are then brought to the attention of Conference delegates as they deliberate on which countries to invite to appear before them, and what points they should raise with those countries.

At the same time, the ILO's traditional partners, the employers' and workers' representatives, are very cautious about granting increased access to other NGOs to the ILO's proceedings. It is sometimes difficult to get approval from the Governing Body for meetings that involve NGOs other than these, or to involve them in discussions. They have grown to know that non-occupational NGOs are indispensable partners on the ground, but do not want to compromise their exclusive access to the ILO's procedures. Thus the NGOs that wish to work with the ILO will have to adapt, at least for the moment, to the ILO's ways of working. If they do, they will learn that their access is perhaps different from what they enjoy at the United Nations, but it is also perhaps no less effective.

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Footnotes: Clicking on the footnote number will take you back to your place in the report.

1See, e.g., Bartolomei, von Potobsky and Swepston, 'The International Labor Organization: The International Standards System and Basic Human Rights' (Westview Press, 1996); Human Rights, Labor Rights and International Trade, Compa and Diamond ed. (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996); and Leary, ‘Lessons from the Experience of the International Labour Organisation', in Alston, ed., The United Nations and Human Rights, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1992.

2ILO Constitution, Declaration of Philadelphia, II(a).

3These include the Committee of Experts described below, and the Finance Committee of Government representatives of the International Labour Conference.

4Article 3, ILO Constitution.

5Nevertheless, a significant number of countries have ratified Convention No. 138 in the last two years, or are working on ratification, in the context of a drive for ratification of the ILO's fundamental human rights Conventions. This illustrates the importance of drawing to governments' attention the need to ratify these Conventions.

6Detailed descriptions of the ILO's supervisory machinery can be found in ILO, Handbook of Procedures relating to international labour Conventions and Recommendations, 1995 (rev. 1997); and in Bartolomei, von Potobsky and Swepston, op cit.; and Valticos and von Potobsky, International Labour Law, 2nd revised edition (Kluwer, 1995).

7The Constitution provides at article 22 that they shall be annual. In practice, in order to accommodate the growing number of ratifications, reporting frequency has been modified several times, and reports are now due at intervals of between one and five years.

8Though not published separately by the ILO in 'hard copy', direct requests are available on the ILOLEX data base, along with observations, the texts of Conventions and ecommendations and of the Constitution, reports of the Committee on Freedom of Association (see below), and other supervisory materials. ILOLEX is available on CD-ROM and on the ILO website.

9Report III, Part 1A to each session of the Conference. (Note that until 1996, this report was Part 4A - specified to avoid confusion in research.).

10The report of the Conference Committee is available as part of the Proceedings of the International Labour Conference, published after each session. It is available already as a Conference report before the end of each session, in the third week of June each year; and it is included in the ILOLEX data base after each session.

11Commissions of Inquiry are not frequent, involving as they do a great deal of expense and time. As this is being written one has been established to examine the situation of forced labour in Myanmar, and it is expected to complete its work by the end of 1998. The complaint leading to its establishment was filed by a group of workers' delegates to the International Labour Conference in 1996.

12The ILO currently receives some 65% of reports due by the time of the annual meeting of the Committee of Experts, rising to some 85% by the annual Conference. At the same time, the Committee notes in each annual report a certain number of cases where governments as persistently failed to meet their reporting obligations in time.

13A social clause is envisaged as a provision in international trade agreements that would make trading privileges depend on the satisfactory application of basic labour standards. Such clauses exist in the legislation of several countries, in particular the United States, and the European Union also has versions of it. At this writing, the concept of a social clause has been firmly rejected by the membership of the World Trade Organization, and the authority of the ILO in respect of labour standards reaffirmed (Ministerial Declaration, World Trade Organization, December 1996, para. 4), in spite of the advocacy of the international trade union movement and the United States.

14Virginia Leary, for instance, otherwise a great supporter of the ILO, has been critical of it for not allowing greater access to non-occupational NGOs. See note 2, supra.

15Standing Orders of the International Labour Conference, art. 2(3)(j). A practical point for those who wish to attend is that the request will have to be in the hands of the Office well before the Governing Body session in the March preceding the Conference session concerned.

16See, e.g., Swepston, 'A New Step in International Law on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples: ILO Convention No. 169 of 1989', Oklahoma City University Law Review, Vol. 15, no. 3, 1990, p. 677; and ILO, Guide to Convention No. 169, 1997.

17This merits a longer examination than is possible here. Briefly, different levels of access are available for NGOs in discussions at the United Nations, but not actual participation in voting or in framing amendments. This can, in exceptional cases such as the adoption of ILO Convention No. 169, be much higher at the ILO - but also much rarer.

18The ILO will discuss at its 1998 and 1999 Conferences a proposed new instrument on the most intolerable forms of child labour. This will supplement Convention No. 138, referred to above.


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