ILC 2019: Business community speaks up for a strong and inclusive ILO Convention

by 10th Jun 2019
A garment worker at a factory in Cambodia A garment worker at a factory in Cambodia

Today the 108th session of the annual International Labour Conference kicks off in Geneva. As momentum builds for a strong and inclusive ILO Convention to end violence and harassment in the world of work, we are pleased to note growing support from the business community as well. We particularly welcome support from three prominent business organisations Business Fights Poverty, The B Team and BSR, who join our corporate partners Avon, Diageo, Marks & Spencer and Unilever in endorsing CARE’s statement of support originally released on International Women’s Day in March this year.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) marks its centenary this year, and delegates at the Conference will no doubt be reflecting on the many achievements of this unique organisation which sets international labour standards in a tripartite forum where governments, workers and employers are all represented.

However, there is also serious work to be done at the Conference.

The standard-setting Committee will discuss for the second and final time the proposed new Convention to end violence and harassment in the world of work. A third of countries currently have no laws prohibiting workplace sexual harassment; in many other countries, laws do exist but they are full of holes or poorly implemented.

For the past two years, CARE has been campaigning around the world for a strong and inclusive Convention which will extend protection against workplace harassment to the most vulnerable workers, the overwhelming majority of whom are women. This includes home-based workers such as those at the furthest reaches of intricate global supply chains and the many millions employed in the informal sector around the world.

Many in the business community recognise that a global law will set an internationally recognised benchmark, levelling the playing field and making it easier for businesses everywhere to demand higher standards of prevention and protection from abuse for workers employed throughout their own value chains.

Reducing violence and harassment in the workplace is not only the right thing to do from a women’s and human rights perspective; it can also deliver measurable business benefits. This includes increased productivity, improved employee, community and customer engagement, lower absenteeism and staff turnover, reduced reputational risk and higher rates of attracting and retaining a female workforce. A new international law that creates clear roles and responsibilities for states and employers for keeping all workers safe from violence and harassment will make an important contribution to global efforts to address this pervasive problem.

We call on all parties involved in the negotiations in Geneva to remain firmly focused on the people that need protection from violence and harassment and to work constructively towards agreeing a Convention that will create strong and inclusive protection for those most at risk.

Time for debate at the Conference is limited: delegates must not allow the negotiations to be derailed by drawn-out discussions on technicalities. And while there is clearly a case to be made for ensuring any agreed Convention will be ratified by as many countries as possible, negotiators must not agree to wording that is so watered down in pursuit of wide ratification that it ends up not protecting the very workers that are most vulnerable.

Delegates at the Conference have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a new global law that will keep all workers safe from violence and harassment, wherever they are working. They must not miss this opportunity. Because abuse is not in anyone’s job description.

Hester Le Roux

Hester Le Roux is Senior Economic Advisor for CARE International UK.