The ILO 100th Anniversary Seminar

International Labour Standards and Their Future Role in the Globalised World

18 September 2019
University of Helsinki Main Building, Consistorium Hall, Helsinki, Finland

This year, the ILO ‒ the oldest United Nations specialized agency ‒ celebrates its 100th anniversary. Unique because of its tripartite nature, this organization was established by the Treaty of Versailles, which ended the First World War in 1919, to promote social justice and humane work-ing conditions. A universal organization with the participation of not only governments but also employers’ and workers’ representatives was considered to be essential to the realization of peace and social justice. In today´s world, the ILO is challenged by pressing questions of open economies and global markets that appear to call for new approaches to international labour standards in order to give them a genuine voice and impact in workers’ lives in diverse contexts, and to enhance democratic mechanisms enabling that voice.

The University of Helsinki Faculty of Law joins the worldwide anniversary discussion of the achievements and role of the ILO and takes this as an opportunity to reflect on future challenges facing the organization.

Professor Ulla Liukkunen and President Tarja Halonen.

Ulla Liukkunen and Tarja Halonen


President Tarja Halonen was the 11th President of the Republic of Finland (2000–2012) and Finland’s first female head of state. President Halonen is famous for her special ties with the core activities of the ILO. In 2002–2004, she co-chaired the ILO World Commission of the Social Dimension of Globalization. From March 2009 until September 2014, she served as the Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders. In August 2010, PresidentTarja Halonen was appointed co-chair of the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Global Sustainability. In this seminar, President Halonen will speak about future challenges to and prospects of the ILO on the basis of the fundamental work conducted by the ILO World Commission.

Professor Yifeng Chen and Professor Bernd Waas.

Yifeng Chen and Bernd Waas

The 1998 ILO Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work calls for the prohibition of child labour, discrimination and forced labour and for protection of freedom of association and collective bargaining as fundamental principles and rights at work. The task of realizing those standards in an efficient way remains critical to the success of international labour standards. Professor Bernd Waas from the University of Frankfurt has lectured throughout Europe, the USA, Japan, China, South Korea and South Africa, and acts as coordinator of the European Labour Law Network (ELLN). In his presentation Professor Waas shares his experience as a member of the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations and discusses problems of monitoring and enforcement of international labour standards.

Special Adviser Kari Tapiola was Deputy Director-General of the ILO in1996–2010. Before that he was a Worker Member of the Governing Body of the ILO. He has been International Affairs Director of the Central Organization of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK) and General Secretary of the Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC) to the OECD. He continues to be engaged in ILO history research work. His presentation at this seminar focuses on transitions that relate to the role and meaning of international labour standards as recognized and universally protected human rights in the world of work.

In recent years, two Finnish Academy research projects addressing the ILO especially from two perspectives, realization of fundamental labour rights and collective rights, have been carried out at the Faculty of Law of the University of Helsinki under the leadership of Professor Ulla Liukkunen. The findings of these projects based on the work of international research groups provide a new kind of framework for assessing implementation of labour rights in culturally diverse legal systems and regulatory frameworks where law and embedded normativities require a wider context which encompasses not only legal culture but also different societal factors in relation to law. In this seminar, Professor Liukkunen will tie her findings on fundamental labour rights to ongoing privatization of norm-setting, which does not leave labour standards untouched.

Professor Jan Klabbers from the Faculty of Law of the University of Helsinki is a leading scholar in the field of law of international organizations. He has written critically about the nature of the ILO as an organization. Professor Klabbers has acted as the Academy of Finland Martti Ahtisaari Professor at the University of Helsinki, working on a project on global virtue ethics. In his presentation he will analyze the ILO as an international organization.

Professor Yifeng Chen, Peking University.

Yifeng Chen  

Associate Professor Yifeng Chen from the Peking University School of Law is also a docent of international law at the Faculty of Law of the University of Helsinki. He draws his perspective from the experience of China and other Asian countries with the ILO from a historical perspective. He explores how a system of vocabulary about universality, peace, humanitarianism, and social justice emerged at the international level in the discourse on labour in the early 20th century and what role this system should play in the contemporary world of work in Asia.

We welcome you to share information about this seminar among your teams and colleagues.


9:30 Registration

10:00 Opening of the seminar
Ulla Liukkunen, Professor, University of Helsinki

10:15 Reflections on the Work of the ILO World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization
Tarja Halonen, President

10:45–11:05 Tea and Coffee

11:05 How to improve Monitoring and Enforcement of International Labour Standards?
Bernd Waas, Professor of Labour Law and Civil Law, University of Frankfurt

11:50 What happened to International Labour Standards and Human Rights at Work?
Kari Tapiola, Special Adviser to the Director-General, International Labour Organization

12:40–13:30 Lunch break

13:30 Collective Labour Rights, Social Justice and Privatization of Labour Law – What Role for the ILO?
Ulla Liukkunen, Professor of Labour Law and Private International Law, University of Helsinki

14:10–14:30 Tea and Coffee

14:30 The ILO as an International Organization
Jan Klabbers, Professor of International Law, University of Helsinki

15:15 Humanity and Economics: ILO and Labour Governance in Asia
Yifeng Chen, Associate Professor of International Law, Peking University School of Law

16:00 End of Seminar

The seminar programme includes space for questions and discussion after each presentation.

The seminar is funded by the Seija-Riitta and Jyrki Vihma Fund of the University of Helsinki.