By Kelli Meyer

The United Nations system is comprised of more than 30 affiliated organizations—known as programs, funds, and specialized agencies—with their own membership, leadership, and budget processes.

In our “Meet the (UN) Family” series, we’re looking at the UN entities that might not always make the headlines but play an integral part of the UN’s mission to promote global peace and prosperity.

Up next: The International Labor Organization (ILO).

Have you ever reached the end of a long week, grateful that the weekend is about to start? If so, you have the International Labor Organization (ILO) to thank for establishing the 40-hour work week, which was created to protect workers’ physical and mental well-being.

But that’s not all. ILO is your guardian in the workplace, championing rights like social security benefits and establishing safeguards against gender discrimination.

Photo: ILO

Now celebrating its centenary, ILO remains a leader in helping the world advance social justice and promoting decent work across the globe.

Combating modern slavery

An estimated 40.3 million people are in modern slavery, including 24.9 million in forced labor.

Nearly one million are forced into cotton fields every year in Uzbekistan, which is one the world’s largest cotton exporters. Over the past few years, ILO has worked closely with the government and other partners to implement strategies to reduce forced labor during the harvest season when it typically hits its peak.

ILO conducted interviews to assess the situation on the ground, pushed for reforms and increased wages, and monitored the harvest to ensure that farmers were upholding fair standards. When forced labor is stopped or curtailed, countries can create conditions essential for economic growth and development globally.

Fighting for gender equality

At the heart of ILO’s work is a commitment to leveling the playing field in the workplace. In Sri Lanka, where only 35 percent of the working population are women, that means helping to establish female-led cooperatives that put women at the forefront of employment opportunities and managerial positions normally occupied by men.

Creating conditions that allow more women to work, means that they can become more economically resilient and become the primary breadwinners in their families. Shattering traditional gender roles benefits society and can lead them to become healthier, stronger and more effective.

Promoting workers’ rights and treating disease

Workplaces can play a critical role in preventing and treating diseases. Consider Tuberculosis (TB) which sickens 10 million people and kills over 1.6 million each year.

In India, ILO supported the development of a national policy framework to address tuberculosis. The model encourages employers to implement policies that allow workers to maintain job security during their illness which in turn helps the employee stick to a treatment schedule. This is a win-win for the employer, the employee, and the economy.

In today’s interconnected society, diseases in one corner of the world can easily travel across borders. When workplaces are safer and healthier, it strengthens a country’s ability to stop disease threats at their source before they can spread regionally and globally.

To put it simply: ILO is a leader in making sure the workplace is safe both at home and abroad. Without this UN agency, the challenges to earning a livelihood would be greater every day.

Bonus! Want to meet an American working for ILO? Watch this interview with ILO’s Deputy Director, Deborah Jackson, as part of our “Americans in the UN” series.