International developments in labour law in the last 20 years

Authors Manfred Weiss

ISSN: 2413-9874
Affiliations: Professor, Institute for Labour Law, Goethe University, Frankfurt
Source: Industrial Law Journal, Volume 39 Issue 2, 2018, p. 693 – 702


Developments in international labour law in the last two decades evince both positive and negative aspects. The ILO declaration of 1998 is an ambiguous innovation. It has raised public attention in respect of core labour rights thus compensating for the low rate of ratification of such rights. But it has also introduced a problematic hierarchy of standards and an ongoing and ever increasing soft law approach. The ILO has finally extended its activities to the informal sector, but has not yet developed a satisfactory policy in this respect. The conflict over the mandate of the ILO might further weaken its already rather inefficient enforcement machinery. The example of global supply chains shows that fragmented and limited regulatory attempts arise only in reaction to shocks (for instance, the Rana Plaza tragedy), and that comprehensive regulation by enforceable hard law is resisted by all the countries whose multinational enterprises (MNEs) profit from the exploitation of workers in developing countries. Soft law instruments prevail. Private actors succeed only to a very limited extent in compensating for the deficiencies in the ILO’s and UN’s regulatory machinery. The MNE codes of conduct have proved to be rather inefficient instruments, mainly used for marketing purposes. More promising are the International Framework Agreements.