The independent body of the International Labour Organization (ILO) that supervises States’ compliance with ILO conventions has recently issued a report summarizing the status of labor rights and associated freedoms in 2015. See International Labour Office, Application of International Labour Standards 2016 (I) (2016), at 2. The Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (Committee of Experts) reviewed 1,628 reports on States’ implementation of specific rights and obligations, including on forced labor, equal treatment, freedom of association, and employment security. Additionally, the report reviews the extent to which Member States’ have satisfied their duties to submit timely reports to the ILO and fulfill other requirements of the ILO Constitution. Id.
The Committee of Experts relies on and makes reference to various other international human rights instruments throughout its report in support of its observations. In the understanding that international labor standards and United Nations human rights treaties are “mutually reinforcing,” the Committee of Experts takes into consideration decisions made by treaty-based bodies of the United Nations and regularly provides information to these bodies about international labor standards. Id. at 31.
Member States’ Implementation
The Committee uses methods specific to it, called special notes, observations, and direct requests, to highlight the severity of noncompliance or lack of reporting on the part of Member States. In the case of Belarus, Madagascar, Nigeria, the Philippines, and Turkmenistan, the Committee requested a report on full particulars through the use of what the Committee calls special notes, which are used by the Committee to mark serious cases and to request the submission of a report earlier than it would otherwise be required or to request full particulars before an upcoming review session. Id. at 15-16. The Committee took into account four factors when issuing special notes. The four factors are the seriousness of the issue in the context of the relevant convention and the fundamental rights at stake, such as workers’ health and safety; the persistence of the issue; the urgency of the issue; and the adequacy of the State’s response to the Committee when it raises the issue. Id. at 16. The Committee also issued special notes to request either a detailed report or a simplified report for 58 States. See id. at 16-18.
For States that failed to submit a report, the Committee either issued general observations or direct requests. The Committee uses the former when a State has not submitted a report in two years or more and when a State’s failure to implement a convention persists. Id. at 12, 14. Direct requests are reserved for when the State has not sent the required reports for the current year and to address technical questions or request clarifications from the State. Id. The Committee received 1,628 State reports, or only 69.7 percent of the reports requested. Id. The Committee indicated that in the last two years Afghanistan, Belize, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dominica, Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Ireland, Saint Lucia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Tuvalu failed to submit reports. Id. at 12. Eighteen States failed to submit a reply to previous observations and direct requests. Id. at 13. The observations are published in the appendix of the report, and the direct requests, while not published in the Committee’s report, can be found, along with the observations, in NORMLEX, the ILO’s database. Id. at 2, 13-14.
For 18 countries, the Committee expressed satisfaction regarding the State’s response to an issue raised by the Committee in its published comments. Id. at 18-19. The expression of satisfaction is reserved for instances in which a State has adopted legislation, amended legislation, or made a change in policy or practice in an effort to comply with its obligations under an ILO convention. Id. The Committee expressed satisfaction towards Barbados, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, Fiji, Kenya, Kuwait, Madagascar, Mexico, Mozambique, Namibia, Netherlands- Aruba, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Samoa, Serbia, and Swaziland for steps taken towards compliance on a specific issue. Id. at 19. Additionally, in 337 cases, the Committee did not need to issue comments on State compliance after reading the submitted report. Id. at 13.
Reporting on Compliance
The Committee of Experts reviews Member States’ reports to provide its own State-specific observations on their treaty compliance. After ratifying an ILO Convention, each Member State is asked to report regularly on its progress implementing the convention. [ILO Newsroom]. Member States are required to submit a detailed report following ratification of a convention or if one is later requested. Id. at 11. After the first detailed report, Member States are required to regularly submit simplified reports. Id. Simplified reports contain information on new legislation or other actions taken that implement the convention; replies to questions on the application of the convention, on the presentation of the report to workers’ and employers’ organizations, and on those organizations’ observations; and replies to supervisory bodies’ comments. Id.
The Committee of Experts then, “undertakes an impartial and technical analysis of how the Conventions are applied in law and practice by member States, while cognizant of different national realities and legal systems.” See Application of International Labour Standards at 8. The Committee examines periodic reports submitted by States under Article 22 of the ILO Constitution (requiring annual reports on compliance with ILO conventions), and information and reports under Article 19 (reports on treaty ratification and compliance with ILO recommendations), and Article 35 (reports on the activity in territories for which State Members have responsibility). See id. at 2. The Committee of Experts then provides its comments in the form of observations or direct requests. Id.
Employers’ and workers’ organizations are also involved in the process of reporting. Both types of organizations may submit information regarding the application of conventions in national law and in practice. Id. at 22. Additionally, in an effort to provide better application of international labor standards, under Article 23(2) of the ILO Constitution, Member States must communicate reports supplied under articles 19 and 22 of the ILO Constitution to employers’ and workers’ organizations. See id. at 23.
In keeping with the ILO’s stance on collaboration with international organizations, the ILO accepts information pertaining to the application of certain ILO conventions from several organizations, such as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); and the World Health Organization (WHO). Id. at 31.
Within many country comments the Committee of Experts uses the interpretations and views of other international organizations as persuasive authority for its own observations. For example, in discussing forced labor in the most recent report, the Committee of Experts cited relevant observations from several international organizations, including the CESCR, the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and the United Nations Human Rights Committee. See Application of International Labour Standards, Forced Labor.
Overall, the Committee of Experts reports that the regular supervisory system has had an impact on the improvement of the application of ratified conventions. See International Labour Organization, The Impact of the Regular Supervisory System.
Reporting and intervention by the Committee of Experts “[facilitates] social dialogue, requiring governments to review the application of a standard and to share this information with the social partners, who may also provide information.” Id.
The Committee of Experts has recognized over 2,300 cases of progress. It reports that instances of positive change, such as Ecuador’s adoption of a new political constitution that includes the promotion of women’s employment, are a direct result of comments that the Committee of Experts has made in its reports. See id.