Historic milestone: the ILO Convention 190
On June 21, 2019, the International Labour Conference adopted ILO Convention 190 to eliminate violence and harassment in the world of work. The convention highlights gender-specific violence and harassment and contains concrete requirements for companies. Christina Stockfisch from the German Trade Union Confederation (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund - DGB) was actively involved in the negotiations. In this interview, she explains the progress the convention means and the specific issues at stake.
Over a year ago, the ILO Convention No. 190 on violence and sexual harassment was adopted. What does the convention mean for workers worldwide?
The ILO Convention is a historical milestone. It is probably the most far-reaching regulation on labor standards ever adopted by the ILO. It emphasizes the right of everyone to a world of work that is free from violence and harassment. The convention takes account of the current reality in the world of work and the violence and harassment that prevails in it. Especially the MeToo debate has revealed the urgent need to have an international standard that clearly defines norms and limits.
Which innovations does the convention offer in terms of protection against violence and harassment in the world of work?
The ILO Convention provides the first globally valid definition of sexual harassment and violence. It not only applies to the workplace, but to the world of work in general, and thus provides a much wider scope of protection for employees. According to the new definition, it is not only violence on the job that has an impact on the world of work. The ILO norm also emphasizes the responsibility of the employer, for example, to protect employees from the effects of domestic violence. Moreover, the ILO established a very wide definition of the term “worker” that includes both formal and informal working relationships.
For the first time then, a globally valid definition of “violence and harassment” and “gender-based violence” was established. How are these terms defined and which dimensions of violence are covered?
Exactly, violence and harassment were included in a joint definition in the text. They are defined as a range of unacceptable behavior and practices or the threat thereof, which aim at or may result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm. For the first time, there is an explicit reference to the gender dimension of violence and harassment. This can also imply that resources or access to services are denied. Gender-specific violence is based on gender norms and unequal power relations. Women are affected more often than men.
Who is particularly protected by the convention? And how do those affected obtain their rights?
A major achievement is that the convention protects victims regardless of the country of origin or place of work, i.e. not only permanent employees, but all employed persons as well as volunteers, job seekers, and others. Thus, a manager on a business trip or in e-mail correspondence can invoke the convention in the same way as an intern in an office or a cleaner in a private household. Violence and harassment from third parties, such as passengers on a bus, are also considered. The agreement provides for grievance mechanisms, medical care, social support and legal assistance. Employees worldwide can now invoke the ILO Convention and stand up against violence and harassment at the workplace, for example, by unionizing and negotiating regulations on violence at the workplace in company agreements and collective bargaining agreements.
What are the - new - obligations of employers under this convention and what implementation mechanisms does the convention provide for?
These are set out quite comprehensively: Preventive and protective measures, agreements, information of the employees and of course sanctions against violations. Employers are obliged to take appropriate steps in order to prevent violence and harassment in the workplace and, for example, to adopt and implement a workplace policy on violence and harassment in consultation with employees and their representatives. They should consider violence and harassment and related psychosocial risks in occupational health and safety management and, with the participation of employees and their representatives, identify risks, and take measures to prevent them. Moreover, they should provide workers with information and training on the risks and available prevention and protection measures.
It is recognized that gender-based violence and harassment are widespread and the convention requires addressing both causes and symptoms. But how should this be implemented in practice?
Ultimately, the goal is to change society's attitudes towards sexual harassment and violence. We must address the underlying causes, including multiple and intersectional forms of discrimination, gender stereotypes and unequal gender power relations. The convention and its recommendations for implementation place emphasis on risk assessment in the workplace, training and awareness raising measures.
The convention also takes into account the fact that domestic violence can become a problem in the world of work when it affects work. Therefore, measures against domestic violence are also necessary and provided for. Which ones exactly?
Not only violence at work has an impact on the world of work. One example: A woman fled from her violent husband to a women's shelter. But the husband lies in wait for her in front of the factory gate because he knows that she continues to work in the factory. This is where the employer comes in and has to protect the woman; for example, by including domestic violence in the workplace risk analysis, flexible scheduling of working hours and location, or a possible leave for victims of domestic violence. Temporary protection against dismissal could also be an option.
What is the next step? So far, only Uruguay and Fiji have ratified the agreement.
Two countries are enough - and hence the convention will enter into force on June 25, 2021. Yet there remain many reservations worldwide. The international trade union movement Global Union has launched the campaign “#Ratify now!” and is lobbying worldwide for a speedy ratification. Among others, Iceland, Namibia, Barbados, Ireland, Croatia, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and the Netherlands have announced that they will ratify the convention 190 very soon.
After the convention was adopted, German Federal Minister of Labour Hubertus Heil had announced a rapid ratification, but to date that has not yet happened. Where does Germany stand today?
In Germany, the situation does not look bad at all. Following the official translation of the convention last autumn, the ratification process progressed very quickly. Now, however, the European Council must be authorized, and the European Parliament must give its consent as European regulatory content is touched upon. Only afterwards the parliamentary debate in the German parliament can take place. And this is where things are stuck at the moment. In January the European Council started negotiations but there are member states blocking a decision. Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovakia have expressed reservations. The European Commission is currently looking for a solution.
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the world of work for many people - by relocating the workplace to people’s homes, lockdown or restrictions on freedom of movement. Especially people in informal or precarious employment are affected. A disproportionately high number of these are women. How do you assess the impact of the pandemic on gender-specific violence in the world of work?
The corona crisis has exacerbated problems and women are more affected than men. Women textile workers often have the worst paid jobs in factories and struggle with health problems, financial insecurity, risks of violence, and a high burden of care work both at work and at home. COVID-19 has further exacerbated these risks. Health risks are often ignored, and hygienic conditions are sometimes catastrophic. Many women textile workers work in the informal sector and have no financial security. The deprivation of resources is also a form of gender-specific violence.
When people become unemployed in families whose financial situation was already precarious, the risk of domestic violence increases. The rapid increase in the number of domestic violence cases this year has demonstrated this very clearly. It also shows how closely domestic violence and its effects on the world of work are linked - an important concern of the ILO Convention 190.
Although women are particularly affected by the COVID-19 crisis, a gender perspective is often lacking in government and employer responses and actions. What orientation can we draw from the convention and how can multi-stakeholder initiatives such as the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles provide support?
Governments and employers should set an example and implement the measures envisaged in the agreement in their companies. The text of the agreement has been concluded and is available online. Companies do not have to wait for ratification to implement preventive measures in their companies and supply chain - aiming for a non-violent and harassment-free world of work. Possible approaches include raising awareness among textile workers for the issues or supporting workplace committees. Gender-sensitive data and its analysis are also an important first step towards closing due diligence gaps of companies. These are areas where the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles could provide support.
Read the full text of the convention (in German).
Gender-based violence is our annual topic in the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles. More information here.