New Internationalist

Know Your Rights

Issue 341

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Trade Unions / RIGHTS

Know your rights
Heine Pedersen / Still Pictures

'Conditions of labour exist involving... injustice, hardship and privation to large numbers of people... The failure of any nation to adopt humane conditions of labour is an obstacle in the way of other nations which desire to improve the conditions in their own countries... Universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice.'

From the Preamble to the Constitution
of the ILO, Versailles, 1919.

The International Labour Organization (ILO)
Was created after the First World War, at the Peace Conference of Versailles in 1919. A 'tripartite' organization - the only one of its kind - it brings together governments, employers and workers. Almost all the governments of the world are members of the ILO and therefore legally bound by its Conventions. But it has always lacked the power of enforcement. Recently it proposed sanctions against Burma because of the systematic use of forced labour in that country.

The Declaration of Philadelphia
At its Conference in 1944 the ILO adopted the Declaration of Philadelphia, which still constitutes its Charter today. This has four 'fundamental principles':

. labour is not a commodity

. freedom of expression and of association are essential

. poverty anywhere constitutes a danger to prosperity everywhere

. the war against want requires to be carried on with unrelenting vigour

Core labour standards
In 1998 the ILO laid down the most basic labour rights as inalienable human rights. These have become known as 'Core Labour Standards':

. Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining

. The elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour

. The abolition of the most hazardous forms of child labour

. The elimination of discrimination in employment and occupation


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