International Journal of Comparative Labour Law and Industrial Relations

Volume 32 (2016)

Volume 32 (2016) / Issue 4

Brian Langille, '‘Hard Law Makes Bad Cases’: The International Labour Organization (Nervously) Confronts New Governance Institutions' (2016) 32 International Journal of Comparative Labour Law and Industrial Relations, Issue 4, pp. 407–423


The struggle between hard and soft law for the attention of labour lawyers is ongoing and the results are mixed and controversial. The title for this article is a play on the common lawyers’ somewhat dubious saying: ‘hard cases make bad law’. My point is I think a better one: insisting upon hard law when that is neither desirable nor possible is a recipe for bad results in concrete cases. My view is also that this debate about hard and soft law is very unhelpful unless it is placed in the clear light of a good answer to the question ‘what is international labour law for?’. Only when we have understood what the task at hand really is can we address the question of what tools we need to deal with it. This article uses two sorts of recent controversies at the ILO (labelled ‘internal’ and ‘external’) to explore labour law’s current hard/soft dilemma.

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ISSN: 0952-617X
ID: IJCL2016021