Chapter 7 ILO and the WHO

7.1 International Labor Organization

The International Labor Organization (ILO) is devoted to promoting social justice and internationally recognized human and labour rights, pursuing its founding mission that labour peace is essential to prosperity. Today, the ILO helps advance the creation of decent work and the economic and working conditions that give working people and business people a stake in lasting peace, prosperity and progress.

The ILO was created in 1919, as part of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I, to reflect the belief that universal and lasting peace can be accomplished only if it’s based on social justice. In 1946, the ILO became a specialized agency of the United Nations.Its unique tripartite structure gives an equal voice to workers, employers and governments providing a unique platform for promoting decent work for all women and men.

The ILO has four strategic objectives

– Promote and realize standards and fundamental principles and rights at work
– Create greater opportunities for women and men to decent employment and income
– Enhance the coverage and effectiveness of social protection for all, and
– Strengthen tripartism and social dialogue

In support of its goals, the ILO offers expertise and knowledge about the world of work, acquired over more than 90 years of responding to the needs of people everywhere for decent work, livelihoods and dignity. It serves its tripartite constituents -and society as a whole- in a variety of ways, including:

– Formulation of international policies and programmes to promote basic human rights, improve working and living conditions, and enhance employment opportunities

– Creation of international labour standards backed by a unique system to supervise their application

– An extensive programme of international technical cooperation formulated and implemented in an active partnership with constituents, to help countries put these policies into practice in an effective manner

– Training, education and research activities to help advance all of these efforts

The ILO was created at the Versailles peace conference and was given the mandate of coordinating labor standards across countries.

Rationale: global capitalism produces an incentive for exporting countries to lower their labor standards to gain a competitive advantage in international trade, and this incentive is bad for workers, bad for social stability in countries, and bad for international peace and order.


  1. It makes rules that only become binding on states when the states explicitly consent to each rule;

  2. It allows non-state actors such as business groups and labor unions to participate as official members of national delegations.


  1. The International Labor Conference (ILC): an assembly of delegates from all member states;

  2. The Governing Body (executive committee): a smaller assembly of fifty-six of those delegates;

  3. The International Labor Office (secretariat): to provide bureaucratic support to the other two bodies


Member states must consider ILO conventions for adoption but are not required to adopt them.

Members are obligated to report to the ILO Director General on their domestic labor regulations and practices.


Stronger substantive rules on labor vs. higher rates of compliance

Two institutional devices to encourage compliance by member states:

  1. Tripartism

  2. voluntarism

  1. By building in a formal role for labor and employer representatives, the ILO internalizes both advocates and potential opponents of new conventions, and bargains that their inclusion will help uncover those new labor standards that can successfully pass through the various sectoral interests in domestic politics and emerge as rules that states will actually comply with.

  2. There is a “peer pressure” effect motivating states to adopt conventions that they otherwise do not agree with, then this logic of self-selection for compliance will not work very well.


The Governing Body can recommend punishments against countries that fail in their obligations under the conventions.

It has no authority to impose rules on members, relying instead on the process of deliberation to generate rules that will be appealing to states’ self-interests.

7.2 Case study: Myanmar

Process: The system works on the basis of complaints. Complaints about non-compliance by a state can be submitted by worker or employer groups, by other member states of the ILO, or by the Governing Body itself. Allowing non-state actors to submit complaints, and allowing the Governing Body to initiate complaints, makes the ILO akin to the ICC where the Prosecutor’s Office has the authority to initiate investigations on its own, relying in some cases on information supplied by non-governmental organizations or others. Once such a claim is made, the state in question is usually given an opportunity to respond and then the Governing Body makes a judgment about whether the matter should be further investigated by a committee of the ILC known as a “Commission of Inquiry”.

Self-motivated compliance vs. centralized coercive enforcement

The ILO has no power over trade policy or tariffs or sanctions, there is no channel by which it could directly impose economic or military sanctions against Myanmar.

7.3 World Health Organization

Core functions of WHO:

  1. Providing leadership on matters crucial to health and engaging to partnerships where joint action is needed;

  2. Shaping the research agenda and stimulating the generation, translation, and dissemination of valuable knowledge;

  3. Setting norms and standards and promoting and monitoring their implementation;

  4. Articulating ethical and evidence-based policy options;

  5. Providing technical support catalyzing change, and building sustainable institutional capacity;

  6. Monitoring the health situation and assessing health trends.

  7. Universal health coverage

  8. International Health Regulations

Governments were supposed to put systems in place and build up their own abilities and capacities to identify, to detect, to report, and to respond to any potential public health emergency could pose WHO’s concern.

  1. Medical access

  2. Social, economic and economic factors that would affect health

  3. Diabetes, cancers, higher blood pressure; smoking

  4. Millennium goals; reducing child death, water improvement, HIV

General program of Work:

  1. Global health agenda;

  2. WHO’s comparative advantage;

  3. Core functions;

  4. Main challenges;

  5. Priorities for the future.

194 governments universal membership; Neutrality; Mechanism of impartiality; Convening power

It is one of the only 2 international legally binding public health instrument agreed upon by 194 countries (state parties), including all WHO member states. It significantly contributes to global public health security by providing a new framework for coordination of the management of events that may constitute a public health emergency of international concern. It supports improvement of the capacity of all countries to detect, assess, notify and responds to public health threats. It has been implemented since 15 June 2007. The Ebola outbreak in West Africa was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern in August 2014.

Emergency response framework


  1. To clarify WHO’s roles and responsibilities in public health emergency response;

  2. To provide a common approach for WHO’s work in emergencies across the organization

Requires WHO to act with urgency and predictability to best serve and be accountable to populations affected by emergencies. The Ebola outbreak in West Africa was shifted from Grade 2 to a Grade 3 event in WHO since July 2014.

GOARN is a technical collaboration of existing institutions and networks who pool human and technical resources for rapid identification, confirmation and response to outbreaks of international importance.

The Network provides an operational framework to link this expertise and skill to keep the international community constantly alert to the threat of outbreaks and ready to respond.

Thousands of experts have been deployed through GOARN since the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was first confirmed in March 2014.

During outbreaks, the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network ensures that the right technical expertise and are skills are on the ground where and when they are needed most.

GOARN is a collaboration of existing institutions and networks, constantly alert and ready to respond. The network pools human and technical resources for rapid identification, confirmation and response to outbreaks of international importance.

WHO coordinates international outbreak response using resources from GOARN.

7.4 Discussion: COVID-19