Clause 9 of the ETI Base Code requires that no harsh or inhumane treatment is allowed and yet violence and harassment (V&H) continues to be prevalent in global supply chains, in all industries.
All workers are at risk of V&H, but particular attention should be given to the most vulnerable, including women workers and other marginalised groups, where the risks are even higher. ETI Base Code Clause 7 (No discrimination is practised) focuses specifically on social identity (gender, race, caste, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital status, migration status, etc) recognising that discrimination regularly takes the form of abuse.
ETI welcomes the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 190 and Recommendation 206, recognising the right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment, by providing a shared understanding and common framework for action.
ILO C190 entered into force in June 2021, however many countries (both of company origin and within supply chains) have yet to ratify. ETI urges all companies to take action to ensure they provide safe and harassment free workspaces for all workers in their supply chain, regardless of ratification, by eradicating practices that may allow V&H to flourish, taking care to understand the particular risks faced by the most vulnerable.
What is violence and harassment?
Violence and harassment refers to a range of unacceptable behaviours and practices aimed at, result in and/or are likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm, and includes gender-based violence and harassment (C190, Article 1).
Examples of some of these behaviours include but are not limited to: bullying, pranks, arguments, pushing, sabotage, defamation, cyber-bullying, undermining behaviours, shaming, fighting, assault and murder.
What is gender-based violence and harassment?
Gender-based violence (GBV) and harassment means violence and harassment directed at persons because of their sex or gender, or affecting persons of a particular sex or gender disproportionately, and includes sexual harassment (C190, Article 1).
Examples include but are not limited to: suggestive or explicit language, physical-based comments, offensive behaviour, inappropriate content sharing, sexual harassment, unwanted physical contact, humiliation, intimidation, indecent exposure, coercive or transactional rape or assault, rape and murder.
What impacts can these abuses have on businesses?
The impacts to victims are self-evident and monumental, the shockwaves of which can have further widespread impacts across a business. V&H leads to increased turnover, lower rates of productivity, absenteeism, an unhappy workforce, reputational risk and ultimately high costs to employers.
Research indicates that the cost of violence against women could amount to around two per cent of the global gross domestic product (GDP). This is equivalent to 1.5 trillion, approximately, the size of the economy of Canada.
According to the US Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, Employee turnover - may represent “the largest single component of the overall cost of sexual harassment”.
What is the broader scope of the ‘world of work’ covered by C190?
C190 specifically broadens the remit and responsibility of companies to encompass areas such as travel to and from work, safe online work environment, public and private spaces where work occurs, third party actors such as business partners and associates, and domestic violence as it affects the world of work.
In India, women can lose an average of at least five paid work days for each incident of intimate partner violence. This fact would mean the affected woman would get 25 per cent less of her salary each time an incident of violence happens.
In 2016, UN Women calculated that domestic violence alone costs approximately $32.9 billion in England and Wales; it’s likely this figure has only increased with the rise of V&H risk during COVID-19.
What can businesses do to prevent violence and harassment?
C190 requires employers to take appropriate steps commensurate with their degree of control to prevent violence and harassment in the world of work, including gender-based violence and harassment, and in particular, so far as is reasonably practicable, to:
(a) adopt and implement, in consultation with workers and their representatives, a workplace policy on violence and harassment;
(b) take into account violence and harassment and associated psychosocial risks in the management of occupational safety and health;
(c) identify hazards and assess the risks of violence and harassment, with the participation of workers and their representatives, and take measures to prevent and control them;
(d) provide to workers and other persons concerned information and training, in accessible formats as appropriate, on the identified hazards and risks of violence and harassment and the associated prevention and protection measures, including on the rights and responsibilities of workers and other persons concerned in relation to the workplace policy.
V&H, and particularly GBV, are notoriously difficult to trace. Social audits and conventional grievance mechanisms are rarely capable of capturing or evidencing where it is occurring, with devastating outcomes for workers involved.
In order to ensure V&H is rooted out of supply chains, facilitating and amplifying worker voice and worker-led actions are imperative. Companies should also work with local NGOs and trade unions in order to better understand these hidden risks. ETI also urges companies to understand how their own business practices might be creating the conditions which have allowed V&H to occur.
ILO guidance & resources
- ILO Guide on C190 and R206 - Violence and harassment in the world of work: A guide on Convention No. 190 and Recommendation No. 206
- ILO Series of Technical Briefs – Violence and harassment in the world of work
- Easy-to-read Guide C190 - Some world agreements about stopping violence and harassment at work
- Brief ILO Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019 (No. 190): 12 ways it can support the COVID-19 response and recovery
- ILO Campaign Toolkit
- Brief ILO The COVID-19 response: Getting gender equality right for a better future for women at work
- Safe and healthy working environments free from violence and harassment
- ILO Violence and Harassment Convention No. 190 and Recommendation No. 206, Policy brief for workers’ organisations
- Virtual high-level event: Guiding the COVID-19 response and recovery towards a better normal free from violence and harassment
- ILO Empowering women at work: Government laws and policies