Shared Responsibility and the International Labour Organization

How should the international labor regime be reformed in order to guarantee all workers around the world minimum labor standards? This is the central question we address in this Article. It has been weighed and discussed by social scientists, legal scholars, and philosophers, who analyze it from various economic, political, and legal perspectives. Yet interestingly, the literature in this field has been, by and large, characterized by a sharp disciplinary divide: on the one hand, labor law scholars typically address the issue of international labor standards from a detailed practical perspective, defining the problems in terms of enforcement, efficacy, or other institutional and procedural obstacles to the effective implementation of existing regulations. In their work, they generally neglect an analysis of the normative aspect of the institutions they discuss. On the other hand, the few philosophers and political theorists who focus on a philosophical analysis of global labor rights often fail to take into account the practical legal details of international labor law. In this Article, we seek to bridge this interdisciplinary gap between the philosophical-normative and empirical-legalistic analytical frameworks of international labor standards. More specifically, this Article proposes a new understanding of responsibility to be adopted by the primary international organization that was established in 1919 for the purpose of promoting labor rights on the global level—the International Labour Organization (ILO). The Article also proposes a set of corresponding reforms that will adapt the ILO to the unique challenges it is facing in the twenty-first century. In contrast to earlier legal studies of the ILO, which have focused on questions of its efficacy, institutional structure, or internal politics, the reforms we suggest in this Article are based on a multidisciplinary approach that draws from a philosophical analysis of theories of global justice.