After WWII the International Labour Organization (ILO) slowly but surely developed a ‘two plank’ approach to child labour, aimed at harmonising the need to protect children who do work, with the long-term goal of abolishing all forms of child labour. During the 1990s the ‘two plank’ approach, which included the regulation and humanisation of children’s work, gradually evolved into a more singular approach aimed only at the full eradication of all child labour, starting with the ‘worst forms’. Based on an analysis of the relevant legal and policy documents produced by the ILO and other international organisations, completed with in-depth interviews with key informants, we examine the internal and external developments that made the ‘abolitionist’ approach now the only perspective that shapes the ILO’s child labour policies. We conclude that, after a century of ILO child labour policy, the intermediate objective of improving children’s working conditions is now just as relevant as it was before the turn away from the ‘two plank’ approach. For the ILO to shift its position at this time, it needs to reach out to the research community, international development actors as well as local governments and social movements to develop locally relevant, evidence-based policies for dealing with the diversity of children’s work in the world’s fast changing formal and informal economies.