The past decade has seeen a transformation of the international labour rights regime based primarily on the adoption of the 1998 ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, and the widespread use of the concept of ‘core labour standards’. Notwithstanding the enthusiasm which has greeted these innovations, it is argued that the resulting regime has major potential flaws, including: an excesssive reliance on principles rather than rights, a system which invokes principles that are delinked from the corresponding standards and are thus effectively undefined, an ethos of voluntarism in relation to implementation and enforcement, an unstructured and unaccountable decentralization of responsibility, and a willingness to accept soft ‘promotionalism’ as the bottom line. The regime needs urgent reforms, such as anchoring the principles firmly in the relevant ILO standards, giving greater substance to the Follow-up mechanism, extending monitoring under the Declaration to include an empirical overview of practice under the bilateral and regional mechanisms which have invoked ILO principles and the Declaration itself, and adequately funding the commitment to workers’ rights.

Author notes

1Professor of Law, and Faculty Director of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, New York University School of Law