experts, with knowledge of discrimination and of individual countries, in the selection of indicators and the interpretation of data on discrimination.
Thomas briefly described the ILO system for supervising countries’ implementation of conventions they have ratified (ILO, 1998a). In the case of discrimination, she said, the ILO begins with the assumption that there is discrimination in every nation and sets out to identify the problem and encourage government action to counter it. The ILO recognizes that we will never achieve the goal of eliminating discrimination, but Thomas characterized the ILO’s goal as “a work in progress, with always another step to take.” If a country doesn’t recognize discrimination as a problem, this is a red flag— an indicator of noncompliance. In contrast, the ILO views the following as indicators of an important first step towards compliance:
the country recognizes the problem (in reports to the ILO);
the country does research to identify where discrimination exists and how it is manifested; and
the country allows an NGO to study the problem.
Addressing the question “How can we quantify discrimination?” Thomas responded that the ILO focuses on government action. What is the government doing? What is the trend in government action and the resulting increase or decrease in discrimination? She views ratifications of ILO conventions as weak measures. For example, almost all countries (including Saudi Arabia but not the United States) have ratified Convention 111 on Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (ILO, 1958).
For purposes of enforcement of international labor standards, ratification of Convention 111 (C. 111) and/or Convention 100 (Equal Remuneration, ILO, 1951) starts a dialogue between a nation and the ILO. For example, now that Saudi Arabia has ratified C. 111, the government provides reports on discrimination, and national and international unions comment on these reports. The government feels pressure to act and provides more information to the ILO; this results in more extensive ILO comments and questions. Just three weeks before this workshop was held in July 2002, Saudi Arabia invited an ILO mission to look at discrimination. This invitation is the result of a 20-year dialogue between the government and the ILO.
In supervising this international labor standard, the ILO relies on official sources, including reports from governments, unions, employers, and the UN. The quality of reports from governments varies tremendously,