The politics of agenda setting at the global level: Key informant interviews regarding the International Labour Organization Decent Work Agenda

Erica Di Ruggiero, Joanna E. Cohen, Donald C. Cole

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background: Global labour markets continue to undergo significant transformations resulting from socio-political instability combined with rises in structural inequality, employment insecurity, and poor working conditions. Confronted by these challenges, global institutions are providing policy guidance to protect and promote the health and well-being of workers. This article provides an account of how the International Labour Organization's Decent Work Agenda contributes to the work policy agendas of the World Health Organization and the World Bank.Methods: This qualitative study involved semi-structured interviews with representatives from three global institutions - the International Labour Organization (ILO), the World Health Organization and the World Bank. Of the 25 key informants invited to participate, 16 took part in the study. Analysis for key themes was followed by interpretation using selected agenda setting theories.Results: Interviews indicated that through the Decent Work Agenda, the International Labour Organization is shaping the global policy narrative about work among UN agencies, and that the pursuit of decent work and the Agenda were perceived as important goals with the potential to promote just policies. The Agenda was closely linked to the World Health Organization's conception of health as a human right. However, decent work was consistently identified by World Bank informants as ILO terminology in contrast to terms such as job creation and job access. The limited evidence base and its conceptual nature were offered as partial explanations for why the Agenda has yet to fully influence other global institutions. Catalytic events such as the economic crisis were identified as creating the enabling conditions to influence global work policy agendas.Conclusions: Our evidence aids our understanding of how an issue like decent work enters and stays on the policy agendas of global institutions, using the Decent Work Agenda as an illustrative example. Catalytic events and policy precedents were found to contribute positively to agenda setting. Questions remain, however, across key informants about the robustness of the underlying evidence base for this Agenda and what meaningful impacts have been realized on the ground as a result.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number56
JournalGlobalization and health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1 2014


  • Agenda setting
  • International agencies
  • Policy
  • Qualitative research
  • Work

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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