What can companies do to tackle violence and harassment at work?

by 04th Dec 2018
Two women workers. The Solidarity Association of Beer Promoters Care (SABC) has supported women to engage with employers about their harassment. Two women workers. The Solidarity Association of Beer Promoters Care (SABC) has supported women to engage with employers about their harassment.

Violence and harassment in the workplace - whether in Westminster, Hollywood or McDonalds - continues to make headlines. Its impact on workers and business is increasingly becoming apparent. CARE research in the Cambodian garment sector revealed that there is an estimated 89M$ cost to the economy per year from absenteeism and lost productivity. Legislative changes are also afoot – with proposed changes in the UK and a new global convention due to be agreed in 2019. What then, can companies that want to take the issue seriously do to prepare and improve?

CARE and Diageo have been working together in a global partnership since 2016 and our work has a strong focus on empowering women across their business, from assessing the role of women in their barley value chain in Ethiopia to supporting women beer promoters and outlets in Asia to prevent and respond to sexual harassment. When we approached Diageo about assessing the extent to which they were tackling violence and harassment across their whole business, they agreed. How, they wanted to know, can business move from risk mitigation to creating a safe and dignified environment where employees are proud to come to work?

We wanted to test whether we could develop a diagnostic to help business know where to look for the problems and how to tackle, report, and address them.

First, we assessed what the standards which have been set out in the forthcoming ILO Convention will mean for business at large, and more specifically, Diageo. Some of these standards include:

  • prohibiting in law all forms of violence and harassment
  • ensuring that relevant policies address violence and harassment
  • adopting a comprehensive strategy in order to implement measures to prevent and combat violence and harassment
  • establishing and strengthening enforcement and monitoring mechanisms
  • ensuring access to remedies and support for victims
  • providing for sanctions
  • developing tools, guidance, education and training, and raising awareness
  • ensuring effective means of inspection and investigation of cases of violence and harassment through labour inspectorates or other competent bodies

We identified key points of pertinence within the draft convention and over-laid these with CARE’s best practice recommendations through an in-depth desk analysis. We then took this framework of recommendations and benchmarked every relevant Diageo policy against them, noting the applicable points in the value chain. This bench-marking exercise allowed us to identify the bright-spots and the gaps in Diageo’s protection and response policies. Best-practice such as broad definitions of harassment within supplier standards and community programming initiatives focused on the sales environment were highlighted and recommendations created for Diageo to replicate and scale-up these initiatives at a global-scale.

We all know however, that strong policies are just part of the solution. We took the time therefore to validate our assumptions and recommendations with a wealth of the Diageo global team, across multiple low and high-risk countries and in business functions ranging from sales to HR and sustainability. The result was a strengthening of our recommendations, an acknowledgement of the need to respond to diverse cultural contexts and social norms and a series of actions for the Diageo Executive Committee to roll-out the emerging elements of best practice at a global scale.

Having completed the research and recommendations through our partnership, Diageo is now rolling-out a strengthened global standard for the protection of brand promoters and scaling-up specific dignity at work policies across its markets.

Diageo have taken a bold step in deciding to dig deep and assess what the ILO standards mean and this has been a positive experience for them. We now need more to do this. Currently we are only aware of a handful of companies that have publicly supported the ILO convention and a third of countries have no laws covering violence and harassment.

Here in the UK the legislative framework is pretty strong and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission offers some helpful guidance for companies and other organisations. MPs are also pushing for gaps to be addressed, for example, ensuring companies are legally liable to prevent violence and harassment, that third party workers are also protected and ending the use of non-disclosure agreements for violence and harassment. If the UK government agree to these changes they will be very strongly placed to continue to push for a robust global convention when it is negotiated in June 2019.

Whatever happens, it’s clear that the pressure to tackle workplace violence and harassment is not going away.


This blog was originally published by Business Fights Poverty.

Verity O'Shaughnessy

I am a Partnerships Manager in the Private Sector Engagement team. I oversee the team’s portfolio of partnerships with the private sector with a focus on women’s economic empowerment and humanitarian emergencies. I support the team to work with our private sector partners to achieve income objectives for CARE, multiply impact for communities living in poverty and influence business practices for greater social impact. I also directly manage strategic partnerships with Diageo, Twinings and Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG). I specialise in women’s economic empowerment throughout the value chain from smallholder farmers to retailers and customers, in particular through managing CARE’s partnerships with Diageo and Twinings. Within the IHG partnership, I focus on developing a strategic approach with IHG to the whole disaster relief cycle including response, recovery and preparedness.

I joined CARE in 2015 from the Fairtrade Foundation where I specialised in developing markets for fairtrade products grown by smallholder farmers and workers in coffee, tea, sugar and cocoa value chains. I have a BA in Development Studies from the University of Sussex, which is where my passion for working with the private sector to achieve development impact sprung from!

One good thing I've watched

Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette is a powerful punch of the realities of being somebody that exists in society’s margins and an account of why this means Hannah is leaving comedy. Hannah shares her personal experiences of the abuse and discrimination she has endured for being seen as ‘other’ and the cultural norms that have enabled it. A heart-breaking (and at points hilarious) call to recognise “diversity is strength”.

Email: OShaughnessy@careinternational.org

Twitter: @VOShaughnessy