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This essay about the International Labour Organization (ILO) presents the lost history of the ILO's trade sanctions. Although the ILO nowadays is characterized as a toothless international organization, in fact, as the one of the earliest specialized international agencies, the ILO was endowed in 1919 with a system for enforcement that included the possibility of trade sanctions against countries failing to comply with ratified ILO conventions. Even though the original provisions for ILO sanctions were always in plain view in the Treaty of Versailles, the literature on the ILO over the past few decades has largely overlooked the existence of those pathbreaking provisions. An even greater blind spot in recent scholarship about the ILO has been the inattention to why the ILO left its enforcement and sanctioning instruments on the table. This essay seeks to answer those questions and proceeds in three parts: Part 1 excavates the history of the rise of ILO sanctions beginning in the early 1900s and ending in 1934. Part 2 presents the story of the fall ILO sanctions which began in 1919. (For reasons of publication space, my story of the fall of ILO sanctions does not cover the ILO constitutional debate in the mid-1940s to eliminate the explicit trade sanctions. Nor does the essay cover the ILO's successful efforts in the late 1990s to reinvigorate the compliance process in the case of Myanmar). Part 3 of the essay connects the significance of the ILO's early experience with sanctions to contemporary theories in international law and international relations regarding how to achieve compliance with international treaty obligations. Written as part of the ILO's project celebrating the ILO's centennial, the essay also focuses in on some of the key personalities that shaped the ILO in its first two decades.

GW Paper Series

GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2019-74; GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2019-74

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