The ILO was founded in 1919 under the Treaty of Versailles, making it the oldest specialized agency of the United Nations. The ILO plays a key role in the formulation and enforcement of international labor and social standards (especially the core labor standards). Due to its tripartite structure, which is unique in the UN system, ILO bodies include representatives of workers and employers in addition to government delegates.
In total, the ILO has adopted 190 conventions and 205 recommendations during its more than one hundred years of existence. Conventions create legal obligations for the member states concerned through their ratification by governments. ILO conventions can only take effect in Germany if the legislature gives its consent (Article 59 of the Basic Law). They bind only the subjects of international law, i.e. the states. In order for them to have a binding effect on individuals, they must, as a rule, be transposed into national law by means of a law (transformation law). Recommendations and declarations are concretized assistance based on the conventions and provide guidance on the direction of the ILO for policy. They do not have to be ratified. All ILO standards are adopted by the International Labor Conference, which meets once a year in Geneva.
The 1998 "Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work", which sets out the so-called core labor standards, plays a special role:
The universal applicability of the core labor standards means that ILO member states are obliged to comply with these fundamental principles in good faith and in accordance with the Constitution, even if they have not ratified the conventions in question.
ILO standards play an important role in national labor and social legislation. The ILO conventions and in some cases even ILO recommendations also consistently play a role in many decisions of the Federal Labor Court and also the Federal Constitutional Court in Germany. In some cases, it is correctly emphasized that ILO conventions are not directly applicable national law, but on the other hand, the Federal Labor Court repeatedly reviews the compatibility of national law with ILO conventions ratified by Germany.
The ILO core labor standards also have an important significance for corporate practice. They must be examined and observed as part of the human rights responsibility of companies. In addition, references to important ILO standards can be found in many codes of conduct. For example, thyssenkrupp's Code of Conduct states that the company is committed to the ILO core labor standards.