US Human Rights Network Blog

US Human Rights Network Blog



International Labor Conference negotiates a standard-setting process to end violence and harassment in the world of work

Jun 12, 2019

On April 30, 2019 the US Human Rights Network co-sponsored a side event at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) titled, “Violence against Indigenous Women in the World of Work,” in partnership with the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) at Rutgers University, the Continental Network of Indigenous Women of the Americas (North Region), and Feminist Alliance for Rights. The event brought into focus issues of discrimination and gender-based violence faced by Indigenous Women in the world of work. It shared information about an opportunity to mobilize in support of a new convention from the International Labor Organization (ILO) to end violence and harassment in the world of work by engaging in a civil society-led initiative that has been launched with the aim of building bridges among different movements, including those advocating for women’s rights and labor rights: 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign.

While the UNPFII side event centered on the experiences of Indigenous Women, USHRN is continuing our collaboration with CWGL around the issue of violence in the workplace for all women. Freedom from harassment and gender-based violence in the world of work is a human right, and one that is systematically violated in the United States. As part of our ongoing efforts to support and amplify work on the ground to end violence in the world of work, we are highlighting the 108th Session of the International Labor Conference (June 10-21) where negotiations are currently taking place among governments, employers, and worker representatives in which they will decide on and adopt the first standard-setting instrument on violence against women and men in the world of work.

Following the Conference, USHRN and CWGL will be co-hosting an informative webinar on the final instrument adopted (date to be confirmed).

To learn about CWGL and other Network partners' advocacy efforts on the new ILO Instrument and the ongoing standard-setting process, please read below and follow the links to take action through the 16 Days Campaign.

ILO Standard-Setting Process Overview: An instrument to end violence and harassment in the world of work

In 2015, the International Labour Organization (ILO) decided to place a standard-setting item on violence against women and men in the world of work on the agenda of the 107th Session of the International Labour Conference (ILC). This initiated the legal process that is set to conclude next week at the 108th Session of the ILC (June 10-21) where negotiations will take place among governments, employers, and worker representatives in which they will decide on and adopt the final form of this instrument. It also falls at a time when the ILO is celebrating its 100th year, a reminder that despite the prevalence of many different forms of sex- and gender-based violence in the world of work there remains no adopted ILO standards over the course of this century that specifically focus on this issue, which is essential in order for the agency to achieve its commitment to decent work. Further coinciding with this timing is its occurence amidst cases of discrimination and violence faced by women in the world of work that are being exposed globally. Meanwhile the Me Too/Yo También and other local movements are taking place, demonstrating that sexual harassment is a deeply rooted global problem with wide ramifications for women, and requires a definitive systemic response. As the world turns its attention and action to address this issue, the time is right for this international instrument as a global standard for accountability.

The standard-setting process has included the steps below, and will ultimately result in the new ILO instrument being adopted as a legally binding convention, a non-legally binding recommendation, or the strongest option as CWGL has been advocating with key partners—a legally binding convention supplemented by a recommendation.

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Box 1: ILO Structure

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Box 2: ILO standard-setting process

The current draft would establish a uniform set of standards for states, employers, unions, and other key actors to prevent, identify, and provide redress in cases of gender-based violence. Its most recent draft can be referenced in the ILO’s Blue Report.

Are violence and harassment in the world of work human rights violations?

While different human rights standards in international law have acknowledged that GBV in the world of work is a form of violence and discrimination that States must address, there is no dedicated legally-binding international instrument that specifically provides a comprehensive set of minimum standards for addressing violence and harassment in the world of work, which could include forms of sex and gender-based violence. If approved as a legally-binding convention supplemented by a recommendation, the new ILO instrument to end violence in the world of work can bring millions of workers under the protection of international law.

Although the current text has a wide support from the ILO constituents, there are some discrepancies in relation to the scope of the new instrument: Whereas the workers would like to see the adoption of a Convention (a binding treaty open for ratification), a number of employers would rather adopt a Recommendation (non-binding guidelines).

There are also discrepancies regarding the definition of “violence and harassment”. The majority of workers’ organizations and a number of governments expressed support for the Office’s proposal, while a number of employers’ organizations and some governments disagreed; several replies from governments and employers’ organizations indicated that all forms of “violence and harassment” may not always be considered a human rights violation, and various alternative texts were proposed, some of which included the phrase “can impair the enjoyment of human rights.” For example, the United States consider there is no right to freedom from violence and harassment in the world of work, and human rights can only be violated by States.

Goal: A strong convention supplemented by a recommendation

Entities from the labor rights movement, including under the leadership of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) campaign: Stop Gender-Based Violence at Work, have been calling for the instrument to be adopted in the form of a legally-binding convention supplemented by a recommendation. Campaigning and collaborative advocacy bridging the labor rights movement with the women’s rights movement, including through the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign and its #ILOendGBV initiative, have amplified the necessary components to inclusively address the violence and harassment faced by women workers. Its current form includes the following elements, and advocacy efforts are focusing on ensuring they are maintained for the final text:

  • The recognition of violence and harassment against women in the world of work as a human rights violation.
  • A broad definition of “worker” to encompass all women workers, including those who are over-represented in unpaid, underpaid, and/or informal jobs.
  • A comprehensive understanding of “the world of work” that can provide protection beyond the workplace, such as the commute or even online.
  • A wide scope that ensures protection to those most vulnerable and include intimate partner violence.
  • Strong language to recognize and address the gendered nature of violence and discrimination faced by women workers.

Actions to get us there

The ILO standard-setting process and decisions made around it are conducted within its tripartite system (see Box 1), resulting in limited space for civil society and even non-organized workers. However, those across the labor and women’s rights movements have engaged and are influencing the instrument’s outcome.

Stay informed and engaged in the final and most critical phase of the ILO process from June 10-21, with the 16 Days Campaign Toolkit and corresponding social media shareables.

Access the most up to date action opportunities and lend your voice to demand a new instrument by visiting the 16 Days #ILOendGBV Action Hub.

Click here for information on opportunities to take action on the final push to the negotiations at the ILC.

What’s next?

Following the ILC, feminist and human rights assessments will be conducted around the final text and form of the instrument. Additionally, next steps will be determined around the instrument’s adoption, ratification, and implementation, including the announcement of advocacy plans toward a strong implementation that uses this instrument as a floor rather than a ceiling and integrates existing ILO and human rights standards and norms at the national level. An updated 16 Days Campaign toolkit will be released to support these advocacy efforts.

Stay tuned: CWGL will work with USHRN to host a webinar following the ILC to share the outcome of the negotiations and provide information about the next phase of advocacy.