World Day for Decent Work – Why we need an ILO Convention on gender-based violence in the workplace

by 05th Oct 2017
Ruksana Begum, a garment worker in Bangladesh, on her way to the factory Ruksana Begum, a garment worker in Bangladesh, on her way to the factory

Saturday 7 October is World Day for Decent Work, an annual event sponsored by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) to bring global attention to issues faced by workers. This year, the ITUC’s focus is on Corporate Greed, but CARE is maintaining its focus on tackling violence and harassment in the workplace. While we agree with the ITUC’s demand for decent wages this World Day for Decent Work, we believe that pushing for greater regulation of workplace violence is a key enabler for women to achieve all the elements of the Decent Work agenda, such as on wages.

Why tackling violence and harassment in the workplace is key to ensuring women have access to decent work

We recognise the central role of violence and harassment in the workplace in continuing oppressive working conditions, in diminishing women’s voices, and in breaching women’s rights, and we are committed to supporting women to fight it. For instance, recent CARE research in Cambodia showed that sexual harassment is a regular occurrence: “nearly one in three women garment factory workers report experiencing sexually harassing behaviours in the workplace over the last 12 months”. This sexually harassing behaviour is often tied to bullying by supervisors across a range of work issues: excessive overtime, low pay, lack of benefits.

Power differences as well as stigma and vulnerability associated with certain types of work, in addition to a repetitive and high-pressure work setting based on meeting production targets, have all been identified as factors that lead to a hostile work environment. Violence and harassment remain a largely hidden issue. They rarely appear on ethical audit reports and data on prevalence and impact is fractured. It is also often low on the priority list of brands and employers – as it is not considered a core labour rights issue – and trade unions often fail to prioritise it, despite the largely female workforce in many industries.

Supporting the ILO Convention on ending violence and harassment in the workplace

So we are taking the opportunity of World Day for Decent Work this year to continue to promote support for the ILO Convention on Ending violence and harassment against women and men in the world of work. We recently submitted our detailed response to the ILO’s Questionnaire on the new Convention, and we will be working hard between now and the International Labour Conference next June to build more support for the Convention across governments, business and trade unions in the global South and in the global North.

We ask everyone interested in women’s rights and in workers’ rights to support the ILO Convention – check out the ITUC Campaign, keep up to date with what’s happening via Insights, and ask your own organisation what it is doing to support the Campaign.

Gerry Boyle

Gerry led CARE International UK’s policy analysis and advocacy around value chains and dignified work. He originally joined CARE as the Senior Policy Adviser on Private Sector Engagement. With the advent of our new Global Programme Strategy which put a particular emphasis on women’s economic empowerment, his focus changed a little.

Gerry co-chaired the Bond Private Sector Working Group. Immediately before he joined CARE he worked for Oxfam as Head of Business Relations for about three years, but the vast majority of his career was spent as a management consultant including being a consulting Partner at Deloitte, where for a time he led Deloitte UK’s Consumer Business consulting practice, serving many major multinationals. Gerry's original degree was in Law from Oxford University, and in 2008 when he left Deloitte he did an MSc in Philosophy and Public Policy at LSE.

One good thing I've read

Amartya Sen’s Development as Freedom. It provides a framework for many people’s modern understanding of what is development, based on a profoundly human-centred approach rather than anything instrumental. And to check whether one personally is doing enough to fight poverty, I recommend Peter Singer’s The life you can save: Acting now to end world poverty – it’s very clear and easy to read but very challenging! Finally, Ha-Joon Chang’s Bad Samaritans: Rich nations, poor policies, and the threat to the developing world is a very readable guide to economic development which argues strongly against many of the prevailing orthodoxies.

Twitter: @gerryboyle10