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  • A protester raises a placard during a rally against harassment at Shinjuku shopping in Tokyo, Japan, April 28, 2018.

    A protester raises a placard during a rally against harassment at Shinjuku shopping in Tokyo, Japan, April 28, 2018. | Photo: Reuters

Published 21 June 2019

The ILO pact sets out international standards for preventing and ending practices that violate human and gender rights at work.

The United Nations International Labor Organization (ILO) in a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland Friday adopted a new "convention concerning the elimination of violence and harassment at work" (EVHW), a multilateral binding instrument, which won with 439 votes of yes, 7 no, and 30 abstentions.

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"For the very first time ... the international community has equipped itself with a global instrument to combat violence and harassment at work," ILO Director-general Guy Ryder said.

The adoption of this convention was fueled by the #MeToo movement, an international movement by women which shined a spotlight on the widespread pattern of sexual harassment and abuse in multiple spheres of contemporary life.

The EVHW pact aims to protect workers from harassment in places where they are paid, taking a break, eating, or using lavatory facilities. It also covers work-related trips, training, social events, communications, and commuting.

In addition to covering workers with regular full-time jobs, the treaty protects domestic workers and informal workers, a category which represents at least 60 percent of the world's workforce.

Despite efforts by unions participating in the multilateral negotiations, delegates from socially conservative nations successfully prevented the ILO convention from explicitly including LGBTI people, a group especially prone to experience violence at work.

"In favor of commitment, we chose a generic reference to vulnerable groups instead of listing them and including LGTBIs, but what is clear is that everyone has the right to a work-life free of violence," Ryder acknowledged.

Another controversial issue was trying to agree on the definition of "harassment," and where it applies. Worker's unions pushed for a wider interpretation than representatives for employers, who feared the possibility of being held liable for actions out of their control. 

Despite its limitations, the EVHW convention was well received by human rights defenders and women's rights organizations.

"Governments, workers, and employers have made history by adopting a treaty that sets standards for ending the scourge of violence and harassment in the world of work," one researcher from an NGO focused on human rights said about the treaty, which also recognizes that violence and harassment can occur via digital lines of communication to work, too.

"The women who bravely spoke up about their #MeToo abuses at work have made themselves heard at this negotiation, and their voices are reflected in these important new protections."

While the United States did vote in favor of the ILO pact, Martha Newton, the U.S. Department of Labor deputy undersecretary for international affairs, said it was important to note that lawful enforcement of immigration laws should not be construed as harassment under the convention.

The convention will still have to be ratified by member states and will go into force one year after at least two states do so.

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