Core Labour Rights – The True Story (Reply to Alston)

31 Pages Posted: 29 Feb 2008 Last revised: 19 Aug 2011

See all articles by Brian A. Langille

Brian A. Langille

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law

Date Written: June 1, 2005


The concept of 'core labour rights' has, over the last decade or so, assumed a central role in debates about the role of international labour law in an integrated world economy. Some, including Philip Alston, see this development as a retreat from and a threat to the existing international labour law regime, especially the International Labour Organization's international labour code. On this view the new concentration upon core rights undermines the existing regime from within by narrowing its focus, weakening the legal status of the core rights, relegating the 'non-core' to a second-class status, watering down its 'enforcement' mechanisms, and so on. This view, while popular, is available only on a very narrow and conventional understanding of the purpose of international labour law. A better understanding is available which enables us to see core labour rights as conceptually coherent (and not politically arbitrary), morally salient (and not merely part of an empty neo-liberal conspiracy) and pragmatically vital to the achievement of our true goals, including the 'enforceability' of the 'non-core' (and not an undermining of the whole regime from within). This essay defends this second and positive account of core rights by reacting to Philip Alston's recent essay in this journal, which is taken as the most comprehensive and aggressive articulation of the 'anti-core rights' point of view.

Keywords: labour, international, core labour standards, ILO, 1998 Declaration

Suggested Citation

Langille, Brian A., Core Labour Rights – The True Story (Reply to Alston) (June 1, 2005). European Journal of International Law, Vol. 16, No. 3, pp. 409-437, 2005 , Available at SSRN:

Brian A. Langille (Contact Author)

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law ( email )

78 and 84 Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C5

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