Business Fights Poverty Oxford 2019 Women’s Equality Zone Workshop: Preparing for possible new ILO regulation

By Hester le Roux, Senior Economic Advisor, Advocacy and Policy, CARE International

CARE International UK are delighted to support the Business Fights Poverty Challenge on business and GBV and to host the Women’s Equality Zone at the Business Fights Poverty Oxford conference on 11 July 2019. ​

CARE International UK are delighted to support the Business Fights Poverty Challenge on business and GBV and to host the Women’s Equality zone at the Business Fights Poverty Oxford conference on 11 July 2019. By the time this event takes place, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) are likely to have adopted a new international labour standard to help end violence and harassment in the world of work. The proposed new Convention and Recommendation is currently going through a second round of negotiations at the annual International Labour Conference (ILC) taking place in Geneva (10-21 June 2019).  Although a number of issues have emerged during the negotiations as being highly contentious, we are optimistic that the parties to the ILC – governments, workers and employers – will find enough common ground to deliver a majority vote in favour of the proposed instruments. The question just remains how strong it will be and what this means for employers everywhere. What is sure is that it will herald in a new era of global accountability for keeping workers everywhere safe from violence and harassment.

Violence and harassment is widespread in workplaces and industries the world over. Women are disproportionately affected due to the gendered imbalance in power which marks most work environments. Violence and harassment at work has several different interconnected drivers: from unacceptable behaviours at work to the absence of legislation preventing them; from power imbalances deterring women from reporting violence to a lack of support from employers when they do; and from social norms that normalise violence and the suppression of women’s voices to claim their rights. 

Increasingly, however, there is agreement that workplace abuse is unacceptable, and that action needs to be taken to address it. In recent years campaigns like #MeToo have highlighted that it is not a new phenomenon; nor is it restricted to certain industries or countries. Around the world, one in three women – in some sectors, as many as one in two – report experiencing violence and harassment at work. Yet in a third of countries there is currently no law against sexual harassment in the workplace, leaving 235 million women vulnerable to being harassed at work. And in many countries where such laws do exist, they are weak or poorly implemented.

This is what makes the new ILO Convention so important. If agreed in Geneva it will establish a benchmark for protecting workers from violence and harassment against which governments can be held accountable. And it creates a global standard that can help companies with global supply and distribution chains use one frame of reference for their compliance. Any government that ratifies the Convention commits to enacting new laws or strengthening existing ones to meet the minimum criteria set out in the Convention; and even in those countries where the Convention is not ratified, pressure will increase on businesses and governments to take heed of the new standard and to work towards meeting it.

But what will the final agreed ILO global standard mean for companies? How does an ILO Convention affect the way business is done across the globe? And how can companies prepare for possible new regulation in this space? These are the questions that will be discussed at a workshop taking place in the Women’s Equality zone at the BFP Oxford conference on 11 July.

CARE has been working for many years with companies across a range of sectors and countries to help them find ways to support gender equality and empower women across their value chains. Gender-based violence (GBV) is one of the greatest obstacles in the way of gender equality and women’s full participation in economic life.  During longstanding partnerships with various partners, we have learnt a lot about the drivers of GBV, in the workplace and beyond, and about impactful interventions. Many of these learnings were confirmed in our recent rapid review of evidence around what works to prevent sexual harassment at work, which highlighted the importance of a holistic approach, including:

  • sustained leadership engagement and commitment;
  • broader efforts to prevent sexual harassment by shifting social norms;
  • ‘whole of organisation’ approaches that include formalised governance approaches and policies, effective complaints mechanisms and ongoing staff training; and
  • embedding organisational approaches in a broader commitment to gender equality.

We also work with partners to help them manage risks, improve practice and prepare for forthcoming legislation. For example, as part of a multi-year partnership to support women’s empowerment throughout their global value chains, we worked with Diageo to benchmark their existing workplace policies and practices against the standards set out in the proposed new Convention, as well as against CARE’s best practice recommendations. For Diageo, this offered a way for the business to move from risk mitigation to creating a safe and dignified environment where employees are proud to come to work.

At the workshop in Oxford we will share what we have learnt from this process and how it could help other businesses start to prepare themselves for possible forthcoming legislation. We will also hear first-hand accounts of different company approaches to tackling GBV.

We hope that you can join us for what promises to be a stimulating and informative discussion.

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