International Labor Organization Wins the Nobel Peace Prize Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The ILO, a specialized agency of the United Nations, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its fifty years of efforts to improve the condition of workers around the world, to protect human rights, and to foster social justice.

Summary of Event

The Nobel Peace Prize was a fitting reward to the International Labor Organization (ILO) for fifty years of accomplishments on behalf of all laborers. These accomplishments included development of international labor standards to improve the conditions of workers regarding hours of work, compensation, vacations, and safety in the workplace; the protection of human rights such as freedom of association and freedom from discrimination; and the promotion of social justice. Nobel Peace Prize;International Labor Organization International Labor Organization [kw]International Labor Organization Wins the Nobel Peace Prize (Dec. 10, 1969) [kw]Labor Organization Wins the Nobel Peace Prize, International (Dec. 10, 1969) [kw]Nobel Peace Prize, International Labor Organization Wins the (Dec. 10, 1969) [kw]Peace Prize, International Labor Organization Wins the Nobel (Dec. 10, 1969) [kw]Prize, International Labor Organization Wins the Nobel Peace (Dec. 10, 1969) Nobel Peace Prize;International Labor Organization International Labor Organization [g]Europe;Dec. 10, 1969: International Labor Organization Wins the Nobel Peace Prize[10600] [g]Norway;Dec. 10, 1969: International Labor Organization Wins the Nobel Peace Prize[10600] [c]United Nations;Dec. 10, 1969: International Labor Organization Wins the Nobel Peace Prize[10600] [c]Organizations and institutions;Dec. 10, 1969: International Labor Organization Wins the Nobel Peace Prize[10600] [c]Business and labor;Dec. 10, 1969: International Labor Organization Wins the Nobel Peace Prize[10600] [c]Human rights;Dec. 10, 1969: International Labor Organization Wins the Nobel Peace Prize[10600] Thomas, Albert Butler, Harold B. Winant, John G. Phelan, Edward J. Morse, David A.

The creation of the ILO by the Treaty of Versailles Versailles, Treaty of (1919) in 1919 was in many respects an unprecedented event: Issues of social justice, the condition of workers, and individual human rights had all been left exclusively to the care of each country. With the creation of the ILO, they became matters for international action. The ILO was also unprecedented in its innovative structure. Nations wanting to organize to attain a common objective normally create institutions composed of their own governmental representatives. The ILO departed from this classic model. It was structured to ensure the participation of labor and management as well as governments to permit a continuing dialogue among them. This was achieved with an unusual tripartite formula. Each member-country was to be represented by a delegation of four persons, two appointed by the government and one each by its leading employers’ and workers’ organizations. Government, employer, and worker delegates vote separately and caucus independently.

Each group elects its own representatives to other tripartite ILO bodies. The ILO has three principal organs. The International Labour Conference is the organization’s policy-making body. Each of the member-states, numbering about 150 as of 1990, is represented by a tripartite delegation. The Governing Body is the executive council of the ILO, elected by the Labour Conference. It is composed of fifty-six members, twenty-eight representing governments, fourteen employers, and fourteen workers. Ten of the government representatives are always appointed by the states of chief industrial importance (Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States). The other eighteen government representatives and the employer and worker members are elected for three-year terms by the corresponding government, employer, and worker delegates sitting in the International Labour Conference. Committees are created to address specific issues such as problems of key industries. Resolutions adopted by these committees may call for further action by the ILO, or they may contain suggestions addressed to the United Nations, the other specialized agencies, or governments. They may also be intended for the guidance of employers’ associations and trade unions in their collective bargaining.

The third principal organ is the International Labour Office, headed by a director-general. It is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, and has responsibility for carrying out the day-to-day operation of the organization. Three thousand officials and technical advisers from more than one hundred countries work in Geneva, in locations of ILO technical cooperation projects, or in its forty field offices. A liaison office is maintained at U.N. headquarters in New York. The ILO became, in 1946, the first specialized agency of the United Nations.

The director-general is in charge of this bureaucracy. Directors from the beginning of the ILO’s existence have been leaders rather than quiet administrators and have used political skill to guide the organization and its membership toward the attainment of its goals, particularly in the protection of human rights and the furthering of social justice. The task is a difficult one. The director must energize the membership of sovereign states that have extremely different political cultures and often follow conflicting policies. Issues of human rights and social justice are frequently sensitive, if not explosive, in the member-states.

An important function of the ILO is the development of international labor standards to protect laborers and foster social justice. This is done by means of international agreements and recommendations. The agreements, called conventions, are adopted by the International Labour Conference and require ratification by individual member-states. Ratifying states undertake the obligation to incorporate the labor standards into their national legal system by means of legislation; they must report annually to the International Labour Office on how the conventions are applied.

Recommendations adopted by the annual conference do not require ratification. They provide guidance for labor policy in a given field. Conventions and recommendations make up the International Labour Code. The ILO has developed investigative procedures to monitor implementation of the code. Many of its standards pertain to work conditions such as minimum wages, working hours, and occupational safety. Others pertain to basic human rights such as nondiscrimination, the right of free association, and collective bargaining. The ILO’s technical cooperation program provides means of helping workers in underdeveloped countries. A large variety of technical assistance projects carried out under this program are funded in large measure by the United Nations Development Program United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

The ILO is deeply involved in the development of human resources through training both workers and instructors. It provides assistance to improve management performance and to broaden the social role of managers through education in areas such as environmental protection and other social, as opposed to strictly business, areas. This work has led to much innovation and concrete results. In Pakistan, for example, the ILO contributed to improving the distribution of basic commodities to the poorest segments of the population.

In the area of vocational training, initiated in the early 1950’s, the ILO targeted some programs for special groups, including women, youth, migrants, and disadvantaged members of the population. In 1965, it established the International Center for Advanced Technical and Vocational Training in Turin, Italy. The center provides advanced training and retraining, and is also responsible for the organization and monitoring of the extensive ILO Fellowships Program. Every year, hundreds of fellows from developing countries are sent abroad for training under specific technical cooperation projects.

In 1969, the ILO launched its world employment program to increase employment opportunity, a project of critical importance for the alleviation of poverty. Developing nations received assistance in employment planning, economic restructuring, and other employment-related activities. A special program was developed concerning the issue of the large numbers of people who went abroad to find work.

The rapid growth of multinational corporations created new problems in the application of the ILO standards. The Tripartite Declaration of Principles Concerning Multinational Enterprises Tripartite Declaration of Principles Concerning Multinational Enterprises (1977) of 1977 provided a new framework to approach these issues. The Committee on Multinationals, created by the ILO Governing Body, monitors its application.

An extensive program of research and publication contributes significantly to the fulfillment of the ILO’s mission. The organization collects a large array of data on labor issues, then publishes and disseminates it among the states and agencies that can use it. For example, a series on occupational safety and health included more than fifty monographs on such issues as occupational cancer prevention and the health risks of asbestos. An encyclopedia of occupational health and safety covered every aspect of workers’ health. The ILO has created an international information center to collect, analyze, and distribute worldwide information pertaining to occupational safety. It has established an international occupational safety and health hazard alert system which provides scientific and technical information on newly identified occupational hazards to all ILO member-countries. There are now thousands of ILO publications in print, including a variety of reviews, journals, and yearbooks. More than one hundred new items are released each year.

The International Institute for Labor Studies, established in Geneva in 1960, is a center for the systematic study of labor problems around the world. It carries out its own research and publishes the results, organizes meetings and conferences of experts to study social questions and labor policies, and offers courses on labor issues for government executives working in the labor field, management, trade unions, academics, and labor institute personnel.


The Nobel Peace Prize added to the ILO’s stature, gave it more authority, and undoubtedly imparted to the staff an extra measure of zeal and commitment. It was also a kind of vindication, a token of validity and legitimacy for what had been done over a span of fifty years to improve the conditions of workers, protect human rights, and foster social justice. The Nobel Prize gave public recognition to the ILO’s achievements and pursuit of goals many considered utopian or overly optimistic. The ILO had many achievements to its credit.

First and foremost was the Labor Code, internationally developed, promoted, and monitored. The task of standard-setting, however, is never done once and for all, particularly in a rapidly changing global environment. The standards recommended by the organization were not, of course, universally applied, but the ILO’s follow-up procedures, involving mandatory periodic reporting, monitoring, and public exposure of noncompliance, have produced results in many of its member countries.

The ILO program of development assistance contributed to the reduction of poverty and fostered economic and social change. The program has greatly increased in scope as a result of funding provided by the UNDP, as the organization has remained committed to the kind of work rewarded in 1969 with the Nobel Peace Prize. Nobel Peace Prize;International Labor Organization International Labor Organization

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Alcock, Antony. History of the International Labor Organization. New York: Octagon books, 1971. The ILO commissioned the preparation of this official history as a fiftieth anniversary project. A thorough, well-documented study. Shows clearly the diplomacy of ILO activities and the difficulty of working with governments whose policies frequently clash. This useful book gives insights into the accomplishments of the organization. Includes a comprehensive bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cox, Robert W. “ILO: Limited Monarchy.” In The Anatomy of Influence: Decision Making in International Organization, edited by Robert W. Cox and Harold K. Jacobson. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1973. An excellent discussion of the inner workings of the ILO, its decision-making process, and the power dynamics behind its programs. Extensive footnotes provide many additional sources of information on the functioning of the organization. A serious and useful study.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Galenson, Walter. The International Labor Organization: An American View. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1981. A well-documented analysis of the work of the ILO, what it does, the problems confronting it, and the issues leading to clashes between states, viewed from an American perspective. Discusses the problems that the United States has experienced within the organization, dissent over structure and operations, and the U.S. decision to withdraw from and subsequently to return to the ILO.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jenks, Wilfred C. Social Justice in the Law of Nations: The ILO Impact After Fifty Years. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970. This small volume by one of the former ILO directors reviews the accomplishments of the organization upon its fiftieth anniversary and discusses how the ILO affected the course of social justice. Concise and informative. Provides a short bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Leary, Virginia A., and Daniel Warner, eds. Social Issues, Globalisation, and International Institutions: Labour Rights and the EU, ILO, OECD and WTO. Boston: M. Nijhoff, 2006. Compilation of essays on major international trade and labor organizations and their effects upon social justice in an increasingly globalized world. Bibliographic references and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"


    Summaries of International Labour Standards. 2d ed. Geneva: ILO, 1991. A very useful summary of the main ILO conventions and recommendations, with a page or slightly more on each of them. Includes descriptions of documents adopted at the seventy-seventh session of the International Labor Conference (1990). Gives a complete chart of ratifications as of January 1, 1991, and a helpful guide to international labor standards according to substantive categories.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Weiss, Thomas George. International Bureaucracy: An Analysis of the Operation of Functional and Global International Secretariats. Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books, 1975. Discusses the functioning of the secretariats of international organizations, the problems encountered, and the remedies available. Chapter 5 presents a case study focused on the ILO, showing the difficulties it has coped with. Includes a thorough bibliography on international administration.

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Categories: History