The role of the International Labor Organization's (ILO's) 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work in strengthening the ILO regime: A study of the ILO's Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA)

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2010-05

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An interesting question arises from the experience of the International Labor Organization (ILO) over the past decade: Can international organizations (IOs) deliberately strengthen international regimes? I propose that, under certain circumstances, new institutional structures, instruments or procedures put in place by an IO may set in motion new dynamics in a way that strengthens the underlying principles and norms of an international regime that has developed around that organization. This dissertation seeks to determine whether the developments regarding international respect for workers‘ freedom of association rights since the International Labor Organization‘s (ILO‘s) adoption of the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (hereafter: the 1998 Declaration) in 1998 is a case of this. With the 1998 Declaration, the ILO has demarcated four rights—freedom of association and collective bargaining, abolition of child labor, elimination of forced labor, and elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation—as ―core labor rights,‖ and it has elevated them to human rights status. I argue that the 1998 Declaration and its Follow-up gradually led to the emergence of a nested regime that has replicated and reinforced the ILO‘s founding norms and principles within the context of four core labor rights. Since freedom of association lies at the basis of the entire ILO system and the international labor rights regime, as well as the newly emerged nested regime, then the ILO‘s Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA), the only international body that is competent to examine allegations of violations of freedom of association, should be an important actor that reflects, and also perpetuates, the impact of this nested regime. I expect the CFA to reflect an increased commitment to ILO principles after 1998. I examine the CFA‘s reasoning in the cases filed against two ILO member States with the worst levels of protection of workers‘ freedom of association, the U.S. and Colombia, through an in-depth study of selected CFA cases from the pre- and post-1998 Declaration periods. If the expected findings are confirmed, it will provide support for the central role of IOs in furthering norm-governed change in international regimes.

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