The United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS) is an inter-agency programme of the United Nations mandated to promote and develop constructive relations between the United Nations and civil society organizations.



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UN-Civil Society Engagement

International Labor Organization (ILO)

I. Core Areas

The International Labour Organization (ILO) is the UN specialized agency promoting the global goal of Decent Work for women and men everywhere. Placing the Decent Work Agenda at the centre of national and international policies is essential in the fight against poverty and in promoting a fair globalization that creates opportunities for all.

“Decent work” is the converging focus of all four of ILO’s strategic objectives at the turn of the century: (i) creating greater opportunities for women and men to secure decent employment and income; (ii) promoting and realizing standards,fundamental principles and rights at work; (iii) enhancing the coverage and effectiveness of social protection and social security for all; and (iv) strengthening tripartism and social dialogue. The ILO seeks the promotion of social justice and internationally recognized human and labour rights. The Organization formulates international labour standards in the form of Conventions and Recommendations setting minimum standards of basic labour rights: freedom of association, the right to organize, collective bargaining, abolition of forced labour, equality of opportunity and treatment, and other standards regulating conditions across the entire spectrum of work related issues.

The ILO also works with tripartite bodies at the (inter)national level dealing with economic and social issues, which are statutorily defined in respective Member States. The Tripartite Consultation (International Labour Standards) Convention (No. 144) was adopted in 1976 to promote partnership with such bodies where they exist for the implementation of international labour standards.

The International Labour Office, the permanent Secretariat of the ILO, is located in Geneva and employs around 1,900 staff, plus some 600 experts serving on technical cooperation programmes. Mr. Juan Somavía has served as Director-General since 1999.

II. Engagement with External Actors

The ILO has a unique tripartite structure with workers and employers participating as equal partners with governments in the work of its governing organs. Due to this structure the ILO maintains a multifaceted relationship with the non-governmental sector, which involves the following: the integration of non-governmental social partners in the identity of the Organization itself; according consultative status to international NGOs that meet certain criteria; and collaboration at the operational level with a variety of international, national and local organizations.

Civil Society

There are three different categories of international NGOs in consultative status. The first includes international NGOs with major stakes in a wide range of the ILO’s activities that are granted either general or regional consultative status. Standing arrangements have been made for the participation of those enjoying general consultative status in all ILO meetings, and in regional meetings for those with regional consultative status. A second category, the Special List of Non-Governmental International Organizations, was set up by the ILO Governing Body in 1956 with a view to establishing working relations with international NGOs, other than employers’ and workers’ organizations, which also share the principles and objectives of the ILO Constitution and Declaration of Philadelphia. The participation of NGOs in this category depends on their demonstrated interest in the ILO’s programme of meetings and activities. There are currently about 160 NGOs on the Special List, covering a wide variety of fields, such as the promotion of human rights, poverty alleviation, social security, professional rehabilitation, gender issues, youth matters, etc. In a third category, the ILO Governing Body extends invitations to international NGOs which meet certain established criteria to attend different ILO meetings for which they have demonstrated a particular interest.

At the operational level, ILO collaborates with many other civil society organizations. These organizations are involved in ILO technical cooperation activities. To the extent possible, ILO seeks to ensure tripartite involvement, or the involvement of both social partners—Workers and Employers—in the implementation of its activities. ILO’s partnership criteria gives preference to those with relevant experience in the geographical area or thematic field for which support is sought, and to those which enjoy the trust of the identified beneficiaries and can relate to other actors, including the government and/or local authorities.

The ILO fully incorporates national non-governmental social partners, workers’ associations and employers’ associations and recognized international NGOs in all of its formal bodies, such as the International Labour Conference, the Governing Body, regional conferences, meetings, symposia and seminars. All meetings and events are in principle based on the tripartite structure of the Organization, and all stakeholders and partners are included. At the country level, all activities take place in cooperation with all the stakeholders. The ILO has a built-in multi-stakeholder system in which some organizations, such as the workers’ associations and the employers’ association are part of the national delegations during formal meetings.

Extent of Collaboration

An example of such collaboration is the project on the elimination of child labour in Pakistan. In 1997, the ILO International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) launched a programme, the Elimination of Child Labour in the Soccer Ball Industry in Sialkot (Pakistan).1 The project achieved its measurable targets and educated 10,572 students through 255 non-formal education centres, mainstreaming 5,838 of them and providing health cover to 5,408 students. The project also led to perceptional and behavioural transformation by convincing the people of Sialkot district that children must not be denied their right to be children and their right to education, recreation and health. It changed the way target groups and the general public looked at the issues of child labour and education, and built up social capital to sustain social transformation.

Private Sector

The ILO has been involved from the outset in the establishment of the Global Compact which has included within its principles the four strategic objectives set out above from the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. Enterprises have a major role to play in the application and promotion of these principles. The ILO is already engaged in developing activities in support of the Global Compact including ILO public-private partnership. It has also set up a database that includes information on all types of voluntary-private initiatives relevant to the world of work and is working with employer and worker organizations worldwide to support their efforts to promote the Global Compact. Business, government and labour also enter into public-private partnerships to achieve the principles in the Tripartite Declaration of Principles Concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy—adopted by the Governing Body of the International Labour Office in 1977 and amended in November 2000. These partnerships provide opportunities for learning, dialogue and reporting on enterprise operations, government policies and workers’ activities.


In March 1999, the ILO and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) signed an agreement that aims to strengthen relations between the two organizations by facilitating their effective exercise of mutually complementary activities and allowing them to cooperate more closely in undertaking joint efforts in particular areas of activity.

Indigenous Peoples

The ILO has been working with indigenous and tribal peoples since the 1920s. It is responsible for the international instruments that deal exclusively with the needs and rights of these peoples, i.e. The Indigenous and Tribal Populations Convention, 1957 (No. 107) and The Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (No. 169). The Organization’s work in this area falls mainly into two categories: adoption and supervision of standards, and assistance to indigenous and tribal peoples and to States.

III. Organizational Resources

ILO’s Bureau for External Relations and Partnerships (EXREL) ensures the development and application of the ILO strategy to strengthen ILO linkages with the international community and focuses on developing a network of global partnerships to promote and support the operationalization of Decent Work.

Contact Info

Name: Mr. Pierre Martinot-Lagarde
Title: Bureau for External Relations and Partnerships
Address: ILO, 4 route de Morillons, CH-1211 Geneva 22, Switzerland
Telephone: +41-22-799-6196

IV. Information Resources

1. Elimination of Child Labour in the Soccer Ball Industry in Sialkot: (

Additional Resources
* Information on ILO’s tripartite structure: (
* Information on the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization and its report A Fair Globalization: Creating Opportunities for All: (
* Information on the ILO Special List of Non-Governmental International Organizations: (
* Information on ILO’s collaboration on the operational level: (
* Information on accreditation to the International Labour Conference and other ILO meetings: (
* Information on Engagement with Parliamentarians: (
* Information on Engagement with Indigenous Peoples: (