The ILO and the problem of underdevelopment in Interwar Asia

Universalism, social justice and development
By Véronique Plata-Stenger

This paper gives a panorama of the changes in the concerns and activities of the International Labour Office (ILO) in Asia, a region which appeared ‘backward’ to some of its members. One of the concerns that sparked debates among the Western powers and Asian countries in the Interwar period was that of economic competition. The ILO was a major forum for talks about the means to tackle unfair competition and to incorporate all countries into the international economy. This theme of economic competition also highlights the ILO’s role in building a differentiated representation of the issues of labour and underdevelopment, which was centred on the imperative of modernising production and planning with the aim of raising workers’ standard of living. The study of the ILO’s means of action in Asia also prompts a reflection on the ties between social justice and international development in the Interwar period.

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