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ILO Histories

Essays on the International Labour Organization and Its Impact on the World During the Twentieth Century


Edited By Jasmien Van Daele, Magaly Rodriguez Garcia and Geert van Goethem

In 2009, the International Labour Organization (ILO) celebrated its ninetieth anniversary. The First World War and the revolutionary wave it provoked in Russia and elsewhere were powerful inspirations for the founding of the ILO. There was a growing understanding that social justice, in particular by improving labour conditions, was an essential precondition for universal peace. Since then, the ILO has seen successes and set-backs; it has been ridiculed and praised. Much has been written about the ILO; there are semi-official histories and some critical studies on the organization’s history have recently been published. Yet, further source-based critical and comprehensive analyses of the organization’s origins and development are still lacking. The present collection of eighteen essays is an attempt to change this unsatisfactory situation by complementing those histories that already exist, exploring new topics, and offering new perspectives. It is guided by the observation that the ILO’s history is not primarily about «elaborating beautiful texts and collecting impressive instruments for ratification» but about effecting «real change and more happiness in peoples’ lives».


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18 The ILO Setting the Terms in the Child Labour Debate 443


8=6EI:G The >AD Setting the Terms in the Child Labour Debate G.K. Lieten The struggle against child labour has gone through various phases. During the first phase, starting with incipient legislation in England in , Euro- pean governments enacted legislation, outlawing industrial labour for the very young and regulating it for children from the age of twelve upwards. In the second phase, which started after the First World War, govern- ments from the developed countries – through the >AD – agreed on an international norm on permissible and impermissible types of employment by children according to specific age categories. Although such norms, which were embodied in >AD conventions, were meant to apply to the entire world, the case of developing countries was only addressed from the s onwards, in >AD Conventions and . This article will trace the history of that engagement and will follow it up with a discussion on the difficulties involved when setting strict norms on a phenomenon – “child labour” – confronted with definitional intricacies. A History Child labour has been on the >AD agenda from its inception. Even prior to the existence of the >AD, various initiatives had been taken on the Euro- pean continent. Following the industrial revolution, children – who always had been involved in some form of work in agriculture or in crafts – were increasingly drawn into (large-scale) industrial enterprises in which they were mercilessly exploited. This exploitation coincided with the emer- gence of a new notion of childhood and a new moral assessment of social justice....

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