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Bureau of International Labor Affairs
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International Labor Standards and the ILO

Since its establishment in 1919, the ILO has maintained and developed a system of international labor standards aimed at promoting opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security and dignity. These standards are either conventions, which are international treaties open to ratification by member States, or recommendations, which are non-binding guidelines. The ILO has also developed a sophisticated system to supervise the application of standards.

The United States has ratified 14 of the ILO's 189 ILO Conventions, including two of the ILO's eight fundamental conventions: No. 105 on the Abolition of Forced Labor and No. 182 on the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor. Ratification entails submitting regular reports on implementation of these conventions for review by the ILO's supervisory bodies.

In June 2011, the International Labor Conference adopted a ground-breaking new Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers (No. 189), the aim of which is to help ensure that domestic workers receive protections that are not less favorable than those provided for workers generally. The U.S. Government participated actively in the negotiation of the new convention and strongly supported its adoption, even though there are a number of provisions in the convention that make U.S. ratification difficult at the present time.

According to three ground rules adopted by the PC/ILO and enshrined in a 1988 Declaration of the U.S. Senate, the United States will not ratify any ILO convention unless or until U.S. law and practice, at both the federal and state levels, is in full conformity with its provisions. By necessity, the legal review process prior to ratification is complex and lengthy. Even in the absence of formal ratification, the United States has demonstrated on many occasions that its laws and practices meet or exceed many ILO conventions and that the law is backed up by enforcement mechanisms.

On a finding by the PC/ILO that there were no legal obstacles to U.S. ratification of a third fundamental ILO convention, President Clinton transmitted Convention No. 111 on Discrimination in Employment and Occupation to the U.S. Senate for advice and consent to ratification in 1998. The Senate has not yet considered this convention, however.