Promoting international labour standards: The ILO and national labour regulations

Published date01 May 2022
DOI10.1177/13691481211027513
Date01 May 2022
Subject MatterOriginal Articles
https://doi.org/10.1177/13691481211027513
The British Journal of Politics and
International Relations
2022, Vol. 24(2) 361 –380
© The Author(s) 2021
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DOI: 10.1177/13691481211027513
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Promoting international
labour standards: The ILO
and national labour regulations
Faradj Koliev
Abstract
How and when do intergovernmental organisations (IGOs) promote incorporation of
international norms in domestic politics? In this article, I assess the impact of the International
Labour Organization (ILO) on national labour regulations. I advance a new argument regarding
how and when labour regulations are shaped by the ILO. More specifically, I argue that the ILO
can shape labour regulations during the preparatory process of international labour standards. I
theorize that the preparatory period of international labour conventions constitutes a propitious
condition for mechanisms of elite socialisation, learning and domestic mobilisation. To test our
argument, we focus on national dismissal regulations covering the period 1970-2013. The findings
provide evidence in line with my argument that states improve their regulations during the
adoption process. However, I find no evidence that states improve their regulations after formal
adoption. The results have substantive implications for our understanding of IGOs and labor
standards in particular.
Keywords
intergovernmental organisations, International Labour Organization (ILO), international labour
standards, labour conventions, labour regulations
Introduction
How and when do intergovernmental organisations (IGOs) shape domestic regulations?
Can IGOs shape domestic policies during the development phase of an international law
or norm? The role of IGOs as shapers of domestic laws and policies is well established in
the international relations (IR) and international law (IL) literatures. Extant research has
shown that IGOs can influence national policies within various domains, such as labour
rights (Strang and Chang, 1993), human rights (Risse and Sikkink, 1999), economic
growth (Blanton et al., 2018) and educational policies (Finnemore, 1993). However, we
still lack answers as to how and when IGOs can influence national policies.
This article contributes to the strand of research that explains and assesses the impact
of IGOs on domestic politics by focusing on international labour standards and the
Department of Political Science, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden
Corresponding author:
Faradj Koliev, Department of Political Science, Stockholm University, Stockholm 106 91, Sweden.
Email: faradj.koliev@statsvet.su.se
1027513BPI0010.1177/13691481211027513The British Journal of Politics and International RelationsKoliev
research-article2021
Original Article
362 The British Journal of Politics and International Relations 24(2)
International Labour Organization (ILO). The ILO – a Nobel Peace Prize laureate for its
contribution to the sustenance of peace – is one of the oldest IGOs, which has the task to
create and monitor international labour standards. Currently, it governs over 180 conven-
tions dealing with various issues, such as the right to organise and bargain collectively,
child labour, discrimination and job security. Existing research on the ILO has exclu-
sively focused on how the organisation can promote labour standards through the ratifica-
tion or monitoring of labour rights conventions (Peksen and Blanton, 2017; Rodrik, 1996;
Strang and Chang, 1993; Thomann, 2011). By focusing on ratifications, this literature has
overlooked alternative efforts by the ILO to influence state policies.
Indeed, there are reasons to assume that efforts that precede ratification and monitor-
ing may produce tangible results for national labour rights. For instance, in 2011, the ILO
adopted a convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers (C189). C189 asks coun-
tries to recognise the legal rights of domestic workers and include provisions that protect
these workers from discrimination and various forms of abuse. Following the formal
adoption, many countries ratified the convention and introduced new regulations regard-
ing domestic workers. However, some countries, such as Spain and Zambia, introduced
appropriate regulations during the development phase of C189 (ILO, NORMLEX 2020).
Do countries adjust their regulations during the development phase of international trea-
ties? If so, why and when do they do that?
I argue that the ILO can shape domestic labour regulations already during the prepara-
tory process of new conventions. Drawing on previous studies and interviews with senior
ILO staff, I theorise that the ILO can shape national labour regulations during the adoption
period through the mechanisms of elite socialisation, learning and domestic mobilisation.
While not all states are receptive to these mechanisms – especially those who vote against
the conventions – the ILO is in a particularly favourable position to motivate many states
to pass relevant regulations during the adoption period. For the purpose of the argument, I
focus on national dismissal regulations and the Termination of Employment Convention
(C158), which is considered the most important international convention that regulates
dismissal. C158 was formally adopted by the ILO in 1982 and requires national labour
regulations that protect workers from unjust dismissals by their employers. I test my argu-
ment using data on national dismissal regulations covering the period 1970–2012.
The empirical analysis suggests that states adjust their regulations during the adoption
period. The adoption process is characterised by exchange and dialogue between the ILO
and member states, which facilitates elite socialisation, learning and domestic mobilisa-
tion. I do not assert that the adoption path is the exclusive road to domestic implementa-
tion; rather, I advance the argument of an additional part of the broader standard-setting
efforts of the ILO, which previously has been overlooked. Neither do I provide undisput-
able proofs of the theorised mechanisms. I do, however, identify propitious conditions for
these mechanisms to operate in the ILO context based on the existing literature and inter-
views with senior ILO officials.
The findings of this article have substantial implications for our understanding of IGO
influence and the impact of the ILO on labour rights. First, this article is the first to theorise
and assess the impact of the ILO through states’ adoption of conventions. One important
implication of this study is that the ratification or ILO monitoring of conventions is not the
exclusive path to domestic influence. I show how seemingly ‘toothless’ processes pertain-
ing to the drafting of conventions may be effective in bringing domestic regulations into
compliance with international standards. I surmise that similar effects should be identifiable
within issue areas such as environment, trade and human rights, although generalisations

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