Female garment workers are particularly vulnerable to workplace violence and harassment

Female garment workers are particularly vulnerable to workplace violence and harassment

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has adopted a new Convention to combat violence and harassment in the workplace – its first new international labour standard since 2011, and one that is described as of "great importance" for the global garment sector.

The 'Violence and Harassment Convention 2019', and 'Violence and Harassment Recommendation 2019' were adopted by delegates on the final day of the Centenary International Labour Conference in Geneva.

The new international labour standard aims to protect workers and employees, irrespective of their contractual status, and includes persons in training, interns and apprentices, workers whose employment has been terminated, volunteers, job seekers and job applicants.

It defines "violence and harassment" as behaviours, practices or threats "that aim at, result in, or are likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm."

"The new standards recognise the right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment," says ILO director-general Guy Ryder. "The next step is to put these protections into practice, so that we create a better, safer, decent, working environment for women and men."  

Manuela Tomei, director of the ILO's Workquality Department, adds: "This is the first time that a Convention and recommendation on violence and harassment in the world of work have been adopted. We now have an agreed definition of violence and harassment. We know what needs to be done to prevent and address it, and by whom. We hope these new standards will lead us into the future of work we want to see."

The international Fair Wear Foundation (FWF) notes that violence and harassment in the workplace is a persistent problem for many garment industry workers worldwide, especially for women.

"This worldwide convention is of great importance for this sector where violence and intimidation are common. It means that ultimately all clothing brands must take action against violence in factories, in addition to the small group of precursors who are already doing that," explains Alexander Kohnstamm, FWF executive director.

The ILO is a United Nations agency that brings together governments and employer and worker organisations to set labour standards and promote decent work for all.

Once an ILO Convention is passed, all ILO member states must submit the Convention to their national authority to consider ratification. Member states that ratify the treaty must prohibit violence and harassment in their national law – something that is not the case in many countries.

The Convention will enter into force 12 months after two member states have ratified it. The recommendation, which is not legally binding, provides advice and guidance on how the Convention could be applied.