Trade policy, labour standards and human rights
The idea of using international labour standards to protect workers from economic exploitation was first promoted by individual social reformers in the first half of the nineteenth century in the early stages of the Industrial Revolution. The work of these reformers was taken over by various non-governmental organizations, including various international organizations (in particular, international associations of trade unions) in the second half of the nineteenth century. Intergovernmental actions to promote international labour standards began to be reflected in international conferences beginning in 1890 and culminated in the establishment of the International Labour Organization (ILO) by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. The ILO, a tripartite organization of government, employer and worker representatives, has mostly pursued its mandate by setting minimum international standards through Conventions and Recommendations, subject in the former case to ratification by member states and promoted by investigation, public reporting and technical assistance, but not formal sanctions. In 1998, the ILO adopted the Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work providing that all members have an obligation to respect and promote certain core labour standards (CLS): 1) freedom of association and the right to engage in collective bargaining; 2) the elimination of forced labour; 3) the elimination of child labour; and 4) the elimination of discrimination in employment. This Declaration parallels, in many respects, references to core international labour standards in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the UN Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural...
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