This contribution analyses, from a historical perspective, the ways in which the International Labour Organization has been able to affirm and fulfil the mission entrusted to it in 1919: to represent the worlds of labour and promote social justice in a universal way. It shows that, from its inception, the Organization has been locked in a fundamental contradiction between the promise of social justice and the decommodification of labour that this promise expresses, on the one hand, and the Organization’s role as a social agent of economic globalisation, on the other. This tension increased after the Second World War, in the context of the Cold War and decolonisation.