"I know my status - do you know yours?"
A South African avocado farm's efforts to tackle HIV/AIDS in its workplace were the focus of an ETI members' roundtable earlier this month. The meeting brought together ETI member companies, trade unions and NGOs to share experiences of tackling the disease in the workplace and identify lessons which could be applied more broadly.
As well as being a human tragedy, AIDS also wrecks businesses and economies: studies have found that absenteeism resulting from the disease represents up to 54% of companies' costs in East Africa.
But companies like Westfalia are demonstrating that it is possible to make progress in tackling AIDS, implement policies that protect workers' rights, and thrive as a business.
Human Resources Manager Dorcus Molomo outlined key tranches of the company's HIVAIDS programme at the meeting. This includes an innovative peer counselling programme whereby people from the workforce are recruited to talk about HIV to their colleagues in an informal way, helping dispel some of the myths and overcome their colleague's fear of being tested.
The company also runs yearly awareness-raising weeks, each with a different theme - for example, "I know my status - do you know yours?" and "If you're not infected, you're still affected".
Said Dorcus, "We are proud of what we have achieved so far", she says. "Crucially, AIDS is no longer something that people are afraid to talk about. People are very involved and aware about the need to protect their status."
Said ETI Deputy Director Martin Cooke, "Westfalia's work is very exciting and provides valuable lessons, not just for companies seeking to develop responsible policies towards HIVAIDS, but also for tackling other highly sensitive issues in the workplace, such as sexual discrimination or harassment."
A new ILO standard on HIVAIDS in the workplace is due out at the end of June.