The ILO’s 100th anniversary: What strategy for the next century?

Aneta Tyc, University of Lodz

As the International Labour Organization (ILO) celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2019, it is unavoidable to reflect on the great heritage of ten decades of its existence. The author highlights important achievements of the organization, particularly a system of international labour standards “aimed at promoting opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security and dignity” ( However, this anniversary is also an opportunity to take stock of the effectiveness of the ILO's enforcement mechanisms. Although the ILO has proved its capacity to define, evaluate, and monitor international labour standards, it lacks tools to enforce compliance with ILO agreements. Procedural compliance, concerned with formal obligations such as reporting, seems to be on the decline. Substantive compliance, i.e. whether states have fulfilled obligations set out in an international instrument, is also unsatisfactory, especially in terms that ILO appears to be unable to respond to cases of non-compliance. As ILO has no effective mechanism to impose sanctions against countries that fail to comply with its agreements, many authors draw attention to the potential of the WTO in this regard. This paper details whether labour standards should be left to the ILO (eg. Hepple, 2008), encompassed by the WTO agenda (eg. Cohan Baclawski, 2016; Wolffgang and Feuerhake, 2002) or both forces should be combined (the institutional approach), eg. the Agency for Trade and Labour Standards “ATLAS” jointly governed by the WTO and the ILO (Barry and Reddy, 2008); joint ILO-GATT/WTO Enforcement Regime (Ehrenberg, 1996); the concept of a global labour and trade framework agreement “GLTFA” (Addo, 2015). The paper also focuses on the integrated legislative approach which consists in the integration of core labour standards (CLS) into the WTO through changes to law, eg. the view according to which the WTO should build on Article XX(e) of GATT by adding a provision that allows countries to sanction the specific sector of a country that has violated CLS, if the ILO has determined that there is a violation (eg. Elliott, Freeman, 2003; Plasa, 2015). The paper concludes by suggesting an option that would be the most feasible and could be realized during the forthcoming wave of reforms aiming at strengthening the WTO.