What is International Labour Law For?

Law & Ethics of Human Rights, Vol. 3, No. 1, p. 46, 2009

37 Pages Posted: 26 Sep 2009

See all articles by Brian A. Langille

Brian A. Langille

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law

Date Written: February 12, 2009


This Paper suggests that the answer to the question “what is domestic labor law for?” - commonly regarded as securing “justice against markets” or a justified tax on market activity-has informed the search for the answer for the question “what is international labor law for.” This is reflected in what this Paper refers to as P2, which provides that “the failure of any country to adopt humane conditions of labor is an obstacle in the way of other nations which desire to improve the conditions in their own countries.” P2 envisions a “race to the bottom” by rational states trapped in a Prisoner’s Dilemma game. The author maintains that this cannot be the objective of ILO which cannot stop “the race” given its deficient enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance. This Paper suggests an alternative raison d’etre for the ILO, which is called P1, namely social justice: “universal peace can only be established if it is based upon social justice.” P1 reflects what states actually seek to achieve. Following Sen, this Paper suggests that there is no tradeoff between social justice and economic efficiency. Therefore the promotion of labor rights by the ILO will contribute both to social justice and to economic success. Thus the ILO should promote international labor law so as to lead member states to pursue their self-interest which is consistent with the collective goal of humanity.

Keywords: international labor law

Suggested Citation

Langille, Brian A., What is International Labour Law For? (February 12, 2009). Law & Ethics of Human Rights, Vol. 3, No. 1, p. 46, 2009, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1476364

Brian A. Langille (Contact Author)

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law ( email )

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Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C5

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