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international labor standards


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International labor standards are among the oldest international standards pertaining to the conduct of private, as well as public, economic actors. Far from being settled, however, nearly every aspect of the current international labor standards regime is in flux: the role of labor standards in the international legal, economic, political, and social order, as well as in the parallel domestic orders; the modes by which standards are brought into being; the manner and means of their implementation and enforcement; the degree to which they may be binding solely on nation-state parties, and enforceable only at their behest; and the extent to which private actors, such as employer associations, trade union associations, worker rights non-governmental organizations, and individuals, play roles in the creation and enforcement of international labor norms. Although the substantive content of international labor standards is changing at a far less blistering pace, important alterations in priorities for these standards also gradually are becoming manifest. This article sketches out the historical trajectory of transformation in the manner and means, participants and roles involved in creation, implementation and enforcement of international labor standards, as well as their content. It concludes with some speculative remarks about their future. The future of international labor standards may be more formal standards, covering fewer and fewer countries, companies and workers, posing ever greater obstacles to turning the law on the books into workers’ reality in fact. On the other hand, innovative trade union and worker organizations are combining across boundaries to push the limits of transnational labor cooperation, pooling their economic and political power to improve each other’s collective bargaining power. In the longer term, at least some of the workers of the world may unite, combining their shared collective leverage with the moral suasion of international norms, to make a reality of international labor standards.


International Law | Labor and Employment Law