International Treaty against Workplace Violence Goes into Legal Effect

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Marcelina Bautista, leader of Centro de Apoyo y Capacitación para Empleadas del Hogar, a domestic workers organization, celebrates the beginning of a pilot program extending access to social security and healthcare benefits for domestic workers, Mexico City, Mexico. 
© 2019 El Universal/RCC Agency/GDA via AP

On June 25, the International Labour Organization (ILO) Violence and Harassment Convention goes into legal effect under international law. This is a critical step to ending gender-based violence at work, which has been powerfully exposed through the global #MeToo movement.

The groundbreaking treaty, adopted in 2019 by government, employer, and worker members of the ILO, sets international legal standards for preventing and responding to violence and harassment at work.

Six countries have ratified the treaty so far: Argentina, Ecuador, Fiji, Namibia, Somalia, and Uruguay. Several others are in the final stages of their ratification process, including France, Italy, and Spain. More need to ratify, as well as change their national laws and policies to reflect the treaty standards.

Over the past month, more than 650,000 people around the world have signed a petition by global civic movement Avaaz, calling on their governments to ratify the treaty, end workplace violence, and implement domestic reforms.

A 2020 Human Rights Watch report highlights the treaty’s main obligations for governments as well as examples of promising practices in national laws. Governments should run information campaigns, commit to enforcement, and provide accessible remedies for victims, such as inspections, complaints mechanisms, protection from retaliation, and compensation.

Governments that have staked their global profile and image on fighting gender-based violence should lead by example. In too many cases, their progress has been slow.

For example, next week France is bringing together governments, corporations, donors, and civil society for the Generation Equality Forum, convened by UN Women. At the Forum, a 10-year global agenda on gender equality will be unveiled. Although France has taken steps towards ratifying the treaty, it has not responded to a coalition of feminist groups and labor unions calling for associated national reforms.

The United Kingdom is one of four governments shaping the global commitments to fight gender-based violence for the Generation Equality Forum, but has yet to ratify.

Uganda, which played a leadership role in the voting bloc of African countries during the treaty’s negotiations and supported key provisions, like those protecting informal sector workers, has also not ratified. It has also missed opportunities to make key national reforms.

This week we celebrate a historic win for all those who have demanded an end to the scourge of violence and harassment at work.

It’s time for governments to do their part through speedy ratification and turning these standards into change on the ground.