UN members adopt world-first treaty on workplace violence and harassment

UN members adopt world-first treaty on workplace violence and harassment

By Luke Vargas   
Published
ILO officials and delegates celebrate the adoption of the Convention on Violence and Harassment in the World of Work. June 21, 2019. Courtesy: ILO
International Labor Organization officials and delegates celebrate the adoption of the Convention on Violence and Harassment in the World of Work on Friday.( Courtesy: ILO)

The treaty states that workplace harassment 'can constitute a human rights violation' and is an unacceptable threat to equal opportunity.

UNITED NATIONS – The global #MeToo movement – and let’s be honest, anyone who’s ever worked a job – scored a big legal victory on Friday as the International Labor Organization (ILO) adopted a first-of-its-kind Convention on Violence and Harassment in the World of Work.

The treaty spells out in clear terms that harassment at work “can constitute a human rights violation” and is an unacceptable threat to equal opportunity.

Jane Hodges is the former ILO director for gender equality and an adviser to the Every Woman Treaty organization.

“Up until now there’s been no legally binding instrument regarding violence at work.”

Before today, Hodges said there were major gaps in protections against workplace violence worldwide. Those included instances when abuse fell outside certain narrow legal definitions, when domestic violence spilled into the office or when volunteers and interns were affected.

“I’m thinking of people in training. An employer will say, ‘I want to protect you against client-based violence against you in the retail sector, but why should I bother, you’re only in training?’ Well, now this convention makes it clear that all persons irrespective of their contractual status – interns, apprentices, job-seekers – have that right.”

The new treaty patches those holes with a broader definition of workplace violence and harassment as anything that leads to “physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm.”

Unlike some treaties requiring ratification by 25 or 50 countries before going into force, this one just needs two. Given that the U.S. Congress is notoriously slow in ratifying treaties, the U.S. probably won’t be one of them, but Hodges says any country that steps up as an early ratifier will go down in history.

“Whoever does is definitely a hero in a sense, a hero to stand up and say, ‘we’re prepared to sign the dotted line because no one, no person in the world of work broadly defined should have to be afraid to go to work.”

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