ILO campaigns to ratify workplace violence and harassment convention
Main image

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has launched a global campaign to promote the ratification and implementation of a treaty aimed at ending violence and harassment in the workplace.

Adopted in 2019, Convention No. 190 recognises the right of everyone to work free from violence and harassment, and provides a common framework for action. The convention also provides the first internationally accepted definition of violence and harassment in the world of work, including gender-based violence and harassment.

Under the international treaty, “violence and harassment” refers to a range of unacceptable behaviours and practices, or threats thereof, whether a single occurrence or repeated, that aim at, result in, or are likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm, and includes gender-based violence and harassment.

The ILO convention defines “gender-based violence and harassment” as 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.

The treaty sets minimum obligations for governments, including ensuring comprehensive national laws against workplace harassment and violence, as well as prevention measures, enforcement, and access to remedies for victims, such as complaint systems, whistleblower protections, and compensation.

The convention went into legal effect under international law on 25 June 2021. To date six countries have ratified the Convention – Argentina, Ecuador, Fiji, Namibia, Somalia, and Uruguay. France, Italy, and Spain are among a host of other countries also expected to ratify the treaty.

The ILO’s campaign aims to explain to the public and businesses what the 2019 convention is, the issues it covers, and how it seeks to address violence and harassment in the world of work. The hope being that more governments will be persuaded to ratify the convention and amend relevant national laws to reflect the treaty’s contents.

Sexual harassment in the workplace has been a major flashpoint for employers since the #MeToo movement began exposing unacceptable behaviour in 2017, while a 2018 World Bank report found that 59 out of 189 economies had no specific legal provisions covering sexual harassment at work

Although many global employers have made attempts to stamp out workplace harassment, reports of such behaviour continue to rise, especially during the covid-19 pandemic during which an increase in online sexual harassment has been widely reported along with attacks on healthcare workers and the harassment and bullying of Asian workers.

“A better future of work is free of violence and harassment,” said Guy Ryder, the ILO director-general in his message to launch the campaign. “Convention 190 calls on all ILO member states to eradicate violence and harassment in all its forms from the world of work. I urge countries to ratify the convention and help build, together with employers and workers and their organisations, a dignified, safe, and healthy working life for all.”

Uruguay became the first country to ratify the treaty in June 2020. Commenting at the time, Ricardo González Arenas, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Uruguay to the United Nations in Geneva, said: “These instruments correlate with the challenges of the future of work, which are linked to workers’ increased mobility, the diversification of employment contracts and the impact of new information and communication technologies in labour relations.

“Adapting to the most modern dynamics of our societies, where factors such as competitiveness, innovation, lifelong learning and efficacy have an unquestionable relevance, requires additional instruments to ensure that workers are protected and their rights respected.”