How Companies Can Tackle Gender Based Violence

By Alice Allan, Challenge Director, Business Fights Poverty

Gender Based Violence (GBV) affects 1 in 3 women globally and has been referred to by the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres as a political ‘global pandemic’ and ‘a mark of shame on all our societies’. A new Business Fights Poverty toolkit has been published to help companies tackle violence and harassment and domestic violence. These two forms of violence can affect employees full and equal participation in the workforce.

Gender-based violence affects employees physical and mental health and well-being, leading to stress, anxiety, loss of self-esteem and motivation. Often women are forced to leave their jobs. It contributes to the gender pay gap and seriously affects women’s opportunities for advancement and career progression. Women usually bear the brunt of gender-based violence, although others are at risk, including men and members of the LGBTQI community.

The costs of GBV are high, with estimates totalling $1.5 trillion, the equivalent of 2% of global GDP. The impacts of inaction are significant. For example, in one study in Papua New Guinea, International Finance Corporation (IFC) estimated that staff lost 11 workdays per year to GBV, including two days to presenteeism, five to absenteeism and four to assisting other GBV survivors. Staff time alone cost companies between 3% and 9% of payroll.

The #MeToo movement has shown there is an unprecedented demand for change, including from employees and from some business leaders across the world. Companies are beginning to tackle GBV, but many others must now follow.

One of the barriers to action has arguably been uncertainty – there is a nervousness about ‘what to do’ about such a complex problem. With this in mind, Anglo American, CARE, IFC and Primark came together to undertake a nine-month Business Fights Poverty Challenge to better understand how business can most effectively address GBV.

The resultant toolkit aims to help business take action. It is timely and will help companies prepare for the implementation of the new International Labour Organisation convention on violence and harassment. This was agreed in June 2019 and sets out the first globally recognised standards for addressing violence and harassment, which will level the playing field and oblige action and accountability by governments and employers. One of the most significant implications of the Convention is that it will require a more comprehensive response from companies.

By taking the actions described in this toolkit, companies will also be contributing to the achievement of the ambitious internationally agreed UN targets for people and planet, particularly Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 5 on gender equality, and 8 on decent work and inclusive growth. It will also prepare those engaged in development and humanitarian operations, including private sector suppliers, to adhere to the new (July 2019) OECD DAC Recommendation on Ending Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Harassment.

Our toolkit provides a 5 Step Framework for action, supplemented with tips and case studies to unearth promising practices. Our 5 Step Framework outlines how companies can comprehensively tackle violence and harassment at work:

  1. Prevent violence and harassment by identifying potential risks.
  2. Commit to gender equality and diversity across the workplace.
  3. Protect employees with supportive policies and procedures.
  4. Collaborate and campaign beyond the immediate workplace.
  5. Be accountable and monitor action.

We have also included a detailed diagnostic tool, developed by Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), to help guide companies to take an in-depth look at their policies, procedures and operations. This includes across their value chains.

The report includes case studies that illustrate how companies are starting to innovate against these 5 steps. They include Anglo American, Kering Group, Vodafone, Diageo, Avon and Unilever, as well as the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and CARE.

For example:

  • Vodafone Group research in partnership with Opinium in 2019 revealed that one in three working adults (37%) had experienced domestic abuse in some form, which had significantly impacted their career. Vodafone responded by agreeing to a policy of 10 days paid ‘safe leave’ across its 26 markets for any staff member experiencing domestic violence and abuse. The policy also makes provision for HR and line manager training to identify and assist those experiencing abuse. One of the key reasons that enabled the policy was the longstanding organisational commitment to gender equality, building on a vision to make Vodafone the ‘the world’s best employer for women by 2025’. This vision had already led to the establishment of a global maternity policy with a minimum of 16 weeks leave, regardless of the market (2015), and their ReConnect programme to recruit 1,000 people back to work following career breaks (2017).

Three clear insights emerged from our Challenge into how business can address GBV:

  • Diverse and inclusive workplaces are the foundation stone for effectively tackling GBV – and this is something that all businesses, whether big or small, can start to work towards.
  • A new spirit of openness and trust amongst business is required. Taking the steps outlined in this report will (hopefully) lead to an increasing number of staff reporting incidences, or using training and hotlines. We must collectively recognise this as a positive step towards improved practice, and a far better outcome than losing members of the workforce or accepting reduced productivity, which is what inaction will continue to bring. 
  • Developing more open means of reporting on the success or failure of approaches is critical, as many of our case studies reveal a lack of ability to track real impacts.

We sincerely hope that this toolkit for action will help us move forward together. GBV is not an easy subject to tackle, but it can be done. Our toolkit illustrates that there are many things businesses can do even if they are at the very start of this journey. The results will benefit overall performance, productivity and retention. And, those experiencing GBV deserve nothing less. 

To read the toolkit in full and access all the case studies and the BSR diagnostic, click on this link.

Editor’s Note:

For more of our social impact stories, Business Fights Poverty Magazine Issue 3: Rethinking Collaboration for the SDGs, is now live. Click here to read more.

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