ILO in a nutshell

Sonja Keppens & Laetitia Verhulst
06 May 2018

- The International Labour Organisation (ILO) was founded in 1919 under the Treaty of Versailles, which ended the First World War. The ILO is the oldest specialised agency of the UN. It is a tripartite organisation made up of representatives from: (1) governments, (2) employers and (3) workers. With its headquarters in Geneva, the ILO currently has 187 Member States.

- The ILO’s missions are to promote social justice, human rights and rights at work in order to establish a lasting and universal peace. The ILO’s 4 strategic objectives, contained in the “Decent Work Agenda”, are as follows:

  • Promote and realise fundamental principles and rights at work;
  • Create greater opportunities for women and men to decent employment;
  • Enhance the coverage and effectiveness of social protection for all;
  • Strengthen tripartism and social dialogue.

- The international labour standards that the ILO develops cover various themes including social security, wages, minimum age, employment security, freedom of association, forced labour, working hours, monitoring of work... Depending on their binding nature, there are declarations, treaties, conventions and even recommendations.

- The ILO’s important legal standards:

Among the ILO’s key declarations, the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (1988) (binding), which defines 4 inalienable rights: freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, the abolition of forced or compulsory labour, the eradication of child labour and the elimination of any form of discrimination at work. Another example is the Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalisation (2008) which was used to update the ILO’s mandate in relation to globalisation and implement the “Decent Work Agenda” which is central to the ILO’s mandate.

- The ILO also issues protocols and recommendations. Thus, following the non-binding recommendation No 202 on the Floors of Social Protection (2012), many developing countries have established a social protection policy.

- The ILO works in developing nations and implements over 750 technical cooperation projects in over one hundred countries. These actions aim to strengthen the technical, organisational and institutional capacities of the ILO’s constituents so that they can establish a coherent and effective social policy for decent work.

- The Decent Work Agenda is closely linked to the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which encompasses the 3 dimensions of sustainability (economic, social and environmental) and which has 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The importance of decent work to achieve sustainable development is explicitly referred to in Goal 8 (SDG 8) which aims to “Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”.

What is Belgium doing at the ILO?


- Belgium has been a member of the ILO since its foundation and, along with 9 other countries, was involved in drafting the ILO’s constitution. Belgium served on the Governing Body of the ILO from 2014 to 2017. Our workers' and employers' organisations are also active within it.

- The ILO is one of the partner organisations of Belgian multilateral cooperation.

- The partnership between the ILO and Belgium satisfies certain commitments made by Belgium both nationally, through the 2013 Law on development cooperation that gives priority to the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda and which includes decent work in its priority themes and internationally, through the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

It is also important to mention that in 2016, Minister De Croo officially launched the “Global Partnership for Universal Social Protection” and that Belgium is a member of the “Group of Friends of Decent Work for Sustainable Development”.

- There are various channels that are used to monitor the collaboration between Belgium and the ILO, including monitoring through the meetings of the ILO’s management bodies: the International Labour Conference (once a year) and the Governing Body (3 times a year).


Belgium's financial contribution to the ILO budget has doubled:

- A compulsory contribution: Belgium is the 18th largest contributor (2.8 million euros in 2018 and 3.18 million euros in 2019) and a voluntary contribution: Belgium allocates an additional contribution to the “Regular Budget Supplementary Account (RBSA)” which is a fund not earmarked for specific purposes (core funding). Belgium is the leading contributor to the RBSA (3 million euros in 2018).

In addition, the Regions also finance the ILO budget. In recent years, total Belgian contributions have varied between 10 and 7 million euros.


Read also:

ILO Centenary: how the organisation was founded

ILO centenary: milestones


Decent work ILO
Back Economy
About the same theme - Article 7 /7 Still 40 million slaves worldwide