Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



In the growing cacophony of voices heralding or contesting the many facets of globalization, international organizations ("Os") are playing an increasingly prominent role. Government officials, advocacy groups, and scholars are heatedly contesting the merits and demerits of using IOs to promote interstate cooperation and to resolve the many transborder collective action problems that globalization has fostered. These controversies raise important questions about how IOs are designed and how they respond to the uncertainties and changing circumstances that are endemic to international affairs. In the debates over globalization and institutional change, one IO-the International Labor Organization ("ILO")-has been given surprisingly short shrift. Founded in 1919 and headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, the ILO is one of the world's oldest 1Os. It has survived a world war and a cold war, a major global depression and a slew of recessions, a quadrupling in the number of its member states, and the rise of global capitalism.

The ILO has a unique tripartite governance structure. Representatives of governments, organized labor, and employers from each of the organization's 178 member states participate in the work of the ILO in a ratio of 2-1-1, respectively. Worker and employer delegates attend the annual ILO Conference, the organization's principal lawmaking body, and meetings of its executive arm, the Governing Body, in their independent capacities. They form separate caucuses and often vote with their respective groups rather than with their governments. With only minor modifications, this "corporatist" tripartite structure has survived intact as the ILO's membership has grown from a small club of Western European states to include members with radically different approaches to managing labor relations, including the United States, socialist nations, and a large contingent of countries from the developing world.