The UN was founded in 1945, as a successor to the League of Nations, because the international community wanted to further international cooperation based on peace and respect for human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the UN in 1948 and embodies a common international understanding of the concept of human rights. Several of the articles in the Declaration concern workers’ rights.
The ILO (International Labour Organization) is a specialised agency of the UN, but unlike other UN agencies its members are not just governments. The ILO brings together government, employer and worker representatives from all ILO Member States. On the basis of tripartite dialogue between these groups, the ILO adopts conventions setting out international labour standards. Countries that ratify a convention undertake to incorporate them into their national law.
The ILO core conventions deal with fundamental human rights, and are concerned with the prohibition of child labour, discrimination and forced labour, and freedom of association and the right to organise. The core conventions constitute a set of minimum standards on which all states parties are to base their labour legislation.
Companies’ guidelines for ethical trade (code of conduct) should be based on the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ILO core conventions, and various other ILO conventions that deal with issues such as HSE, wages and working hours.
ILOs Decent Work agenda is based on the understanding that work is a source of personal dignity, family stability, peace in the community, democracies that deliver for people, and economic growth that expands opportunities for productive jobs and enterprise development.
Core conventions dealing with the prohibition of child labour
- ILO Convention concerning Minimum Age for Admission to Employment (C138 Minimum Age Convention)
All countries that ratify this convention undertake to abolish child labour. The minimum age for admission to employment shall not be less than the age of completion of compulsory schooling, and, in any case, not less than 15 years. However, in developing countries, a minimum age of 14 years may be specified during a transitional period.
Children of 13 to 15 years of age may be employed to perform light work providing that this is not likely to be harmful to their health or development, or to adversely affect their schooling.
- ILO Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour (C182 Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention)
All countries that ratify this convention undertake to secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, such as slavery, the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage, forced or compulsory labour, production of pornography or the recruitment of children for use in armed conflict. For the purposes of this convention, all persons under the age of 18 are considered to be children.
Core conventions dealing with the prohibition of forced labour
- ILO Convention concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour (C29 Forced Labour Convention)
Forced or compulsory labour is defined as all work that a person is made to do through the use of force or under threat of punishment. The authorities may order the use of forced labour, but only under exceptional circumstances. In such cases, the work must be of important and imminent necessity for the society concerned, and it must have been impossible to obtain voluntary labour for carrying out the work or rendering the service.
- ILO Convention concerning the Abolition of Forced Labour (C105 Abolition of Forced Labour Convention)
Countries that ratify this convention undertake to take effective measures to secure the immediate and complete abolition of forced or compulsory labour, and not to make use of any form of forced or compulsory labour. Forced labour must not be used as a means of political coercion or education, or as a punishment for expressing views or participating in strikes. Forced labour is not to be used for purposes of economic development.
Core conventions dealing with freedom of association and the right to organise
- ILO Convention concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (C87 Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention)
All countries that ratify this convention undertake to respect the right of workers and employers to freedom of association and to establish and join organisations of their own choosing in order to further and safeguard their interests. This right is to be exercised freely and applies to all workers and employers without distinction, but respect must be shown for the law of the country concerned.
- ILO Convention concerning the Application of the Principles of the Right to Organise and to Bargain Collectively (C98 Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention)
All countries that ratify this convention undertake to ensure that union membership does not lead to workers being dismissed or prevented from seeking work or otherwise prejudices workers. Employers may not require that workers do not join a union or that they relinquish union membership.
Under the convention, states are required to promote and encourage voluntary negotiation between employers or employers’ organisations and workers’ organisations, with a view to regulating terms and conditions of employment by means of collective agreements.
Core conventions dealing with the prohibition of discrimination
- ILO Convention concerning Equal Remuneration for Men and Women Workers for Work of Equal Value (C100 Equal Remuneration Convention)
Under this convention, states undertake to promote the principle of equal remuneration for men and women workers for work of equal value, and to ensure that rates of remuneration are established without discrimination based on sex.
- ILO Convention concerning Discrimination in Respect of Employment and Occupation (C111 Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention)
Under this convention, states undertake to eliminate all forms of discrimination in connection with employment and occupation. In the convention, discrimination is defined as including any distinction, exclusion or preference made on the basis of race, colour, sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin, which has the effect of nullifying or impairing equality of opportunity or treatment in employment or occupation. This also applies to access to vocational training and to particular occupations, and terms and conditions of employment.
Any distinction, exclusion or preference in respect of a particular job based on the inherent nature of the job concerned shall not be deemed to be discrimination. There are certain other exceptions. Special measures to protect or assist persons who for reasons such as sex, age, disablement, family responsibilities or social or cultural status require such protection or assistance shall not be deemed to be discrimination.
Other important conventions
- ILO Convention concerning Occupational Safety and Health and the Working Environment (C155 Occupational Safety and Health Convention)
This convention concerns the right of all workers to a safe and healthy working environment. It is a detailed convention, which covers measures and obligations both at the national level and at the level of the undertaking or company. It provides that employers shall be required to provide protective clothing and protective equipment, and to ensure that the workplaces, machinery, equipment and processes under their control are safe and without risk to health, as far as is reasonably practicable. According to the convention, workers have the right to leave a work situation where there is continuing imminent and serious danger to life or health. Workers and their representatives in the undertaking shall cooperate with the employer in the field of occupational safety and health, with a view to helping the employer fulfil its obligations in this area.
- ILO Convention on Limiting the Hours of Work in Industrial Undertakings to Eight in the Day and Forty-eight in the Week (C1 Hours of Work (Industry) Convention) and ILO Convention concerning the Application of the Weekly Rest in Industrial Undertakings (C14 Weekly Rest (Industry) Convention)
These conventions concern the regulation of working hours and the right to weekly rest.
- ILO Convention concerning Minimum Wage Fixing, with Special Reference to Developing Countries (C131 Minimum Wage Fixing Convention)
This convention deals with minimum wage fixing, with special reference to developing countries.
- ILO Convention concerning Protection and Facilities to be Afforded to Workers' Representatives in the Undertaking (C135 Workers' Representatives Convention)
This convention deals with the protection of workers’ representatives and their opportunities to carry out their functions.
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