Law, Economy and Seeing Woman’s Work:
Knowledge Production and the ILO’s Domestic Workers Convention in Global Migration Governance


This project will investigate how knowledge production takes place within the context of an international organization (IO) – the International Labour Organization (ILO).
Specifically, it will look into how what we know about domestic work has developed in the context of the establishment of the ILO’s Convention on Domestic Work (C189).

The latter is a landmark global treaty that seeks to set employment standards and norms, for domestic workers. To date, C189 has only been ratified by 35 countries. The low ratification rate belies the demand for domestic work worldwide.

This demand is an indicator of what scholars have called a global ‘care deficit’ and ‘crisis of social reproduction’. This demand will not only increase in volume (absolute numbers) but also scope (number of national territories) as the global population continues to age and as long as states do not adequately invest in social reproduction – activities that reproduce and maintain people.

Respect Network Europe mobilize in Manila, Philippines. Photo credits: ILO Asia Pacific.

The ILO’s tripartite architecture makes it possible for a variety of actors to converge – origin and destination country governments, international trade unions, employer and industry associations, academics, and other entities in the UN system.
In other words, the ILO is potentially the most democratic of all IOs.

At the same time, the events which culminated in the passage of C189 at the 100th International Labour Conference in 2011, demonstrate a phenomenon which may be the first of its kind - where a global social movement worked to put a treaty on the agenda of a global governance institution.

A combination of human rights, women's rights and labour rights movements and efforts at the local and transnational levels instantiate C189 as an example of the emergence of a 'global agenda' in which various social forces mobilized knowledge claims to influence an outcome.

International Labour Conference 2015, Workers Group Meeting. Photo credits: ILO, Marcel Crozet.


This project therefore concretely investigates how various actors engage with an international organization in making knowledge claims about domestic work. It will seek to primarily illustrate the contingency of these claims, to show that the process by which knowledge about domestic work is created is highly contentious - as actors compete over definition of terms, scope, jurisdiction, etc. By investigating how ‘science’, or the authoritative production of knowledge claims, informs politics and vice versa. More broadly, this project draws from the sociality of knowledge production in feminist interventions in science and technology studies that attend to different sources of epistemic authority, including voices ‘from below’.

International Domestic Workers Federation, Latin America LUNA Retreat 2019. Photo credits: IDWF.

The project will proceed in two stages: an analysis of the run-up to C189’s adoption and an investigation of how the ILO’s norm-setting activities diffuse to and from a regional organisation – in this case the European Union.

  1. The first stage will examine
    1. the discourses ('logos')
    2. the activities ('praxis')
    3. and the tools ('techne')
    which, together, constitute what we understand about what domestic work is (its ontology), who counts as workers, what norms and entitlements apply, and the roles and responsibilities of various actors.
  2. The second stage will examine the activities with various partners and projects of the European ILO’s regional office in Brussels in relation to domestic work and the C189.