In english – a short introduction

The Geneva School – A Nordic Folk High School

A joint Nordic educational initiative – An international exchange – A boundless experience

The Geneva School is a course on the ability of trade unions and popular movements to have an impact on the globalised community. The course is aimed at active members of trade unions and popular movements within the Nordic countries.

We are proud to offer a multi-dimensional learning process of excellent renown. “Der er en tid før Genèveskolen og en tid efter. Dit hoved bliver jo åbnet op og pludselig kan man se det hele i en sammenhæng.”

The Nordic Folk School in Geneva dates back to 1931. Ever since, it has operated to increase knowledge about international co-operation and regulations, and to promote trade union activities, nationally and internationally. Its purpose is to prepare students for the challenges of globalisation, not least the establishment of fair working conditions.

Our story

The International Labour Organization, the ILO, was established in 1919. However, it took some time for the ILO to make itself known within the Nordic countries. In addition, members of the Nordic trade unions had difficulties studying international matters and the work of the ILO. They found it hard to take part in the International Labour Conference, the ILC, in Geneva, since they often lacked sufficient language skills and academic training.

At the League of Nations, the Interparliamentary Union and the ILO in Geneva were the Nordic representatives Ludvig Krabbe from Denmark, Christina L. Lange from Norway and Sven Backlund and Sture Thorsson from Sweden. They all felt that support from a knowledgeable and active popular opinion in the Nordic countries was important to the international co-operation. They sought out Nordic popular movements that were positive in this matter. Thus the Nordic Folk School in Geneva was established.

The idea was to bring about a Nordic centre for international studies. Active members of the trade unions and the political and co-operative organisations were to be provided with an opportunity for Nordic co-operation within an international setting, despite lack of language skills. Consequently, the School’s languages were Danish, Norwegian and Swedish. Already during the School’s first course, its participants followed the International Labour Conference.

Course outline 2018

The external activity of the School is the annual course held in May/June. It gathers participants from Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland. During the International Labour Conference in Geneva, course participants monitor issues within workers’ activities in working life matters.

The course – four integrated parts

The Geneva school consists of four parts. Attendance is compulsory through the entire course.

Part 1.          The first part of the course consists of a brief national gathering.

Part 2.          After that all the participants meet at Runö, north of Stockholm, for a common pre-course.

At Runö the participants will work within a group project. The agenda pre-suppose that the participants have basic skills regarding the ILO, the nuclear conventions and the national ILO-work. The group project must be related to this years agenda of the ILO-conference.

Part 3.          After the pre-course at Runö the participants will work on a online task who will take approximately 30 hours to complete.

The purpose of the online task is orientation within the ILO-conventions and recommendations related to the focus of the group project. The participants shall independently seek out information about the ILO and ILOs work within each country.

Del 4.          In late May/early June, participants travel to Geneva, to stay together and study at the ILC. The time in Geneva is summed up by producing a report.

During the first weeks, participants monitor questions regarding workers’ activities. In addition, they are given a lecture on the core objectives of the ILO, and on this year’s conference agenda. The lecture is held by representatives of the ILO Bureau for Workers’ Activities, ACTRAV. The Geneva School has a well-established relation with ACTRAV, something very beneficial to the course. The school invites other lecturers from various international organisations. Participants will meet representatives from multiple nations, and focus on their group assignments.


The International Labour Organization (ILO) is the UN’s specialised agency for work-related issues. Its fundamental goals are to fight poverty and social injustice. Therefore, its tasks include promoting employment and improved working conditions worldwide, and the protection of trade union freedoms and rights. The ILO currently has 183 member countries.

The ILO was created in the social and economic turmoil after the First World War. There were several motives, partly humanitarian and philanthropic, partly political – fear of social unrest and revolutionary manifestations. They were also partly economic – improved working conditions were thought to result in higher production costs, and countries that adopted such measures feared losing their competitive edge. The workers paid for the nations’ mutual competition over prices and markets, through low wages and miserable working conditions.

The ILO’s constitution is found as Chapter XIII in the Treaty of Versailles. The ILO was established as an independent part of the League of Nations. To this day the Constitution, adopted in 1919, serves as a guide for the work of the ILO to this day. The preamble to the Constitution states that universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice.

In 1944, the ILO saw an expansion of its activities, towards increased aid activity for poor countries, research on social and economic conditions and advice on policy matters. In 1946, the ILO became the UN’s first specialised agency, and in 1969, the organisation was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The ILO’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work
This declaration was adopted in 1998, and means that all member countries of the ILO, “even if they have not ratified the Conventions in question, have an obligation arising from the very fact of membership in the Organization to respect, to promote and to realise, in good faith and in accordance with the Constitution, the principles concerning the fundamental rights which are the subject of those Conventions, namely:

– freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;
– the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour;
– the effective abolition of child labour; and
– the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.”



ILO Sweden

Sweden became a member of the ILO in 1920, through its entry into the League of Nations. Within the Government Offices of Sweden, the Swedish Ministry of Employment is responsible for matters that concern the ILO. Since 1927, the Swedish ILO Committee handles certain matters regarding the co-operation with the ILO. The Committee is an independent authority of the Swedish Ministry of Employment.