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ILO adopts #MeToo workplace treaty

The ILO adopted a global treaty to reduce violence and harassment in the workplace, but stopped short of including language for LGBTI people.

GENEVA (AN) — The International Labor Organization adopted a global treaty on Friday meant to reduce violence and harassment in the workplace, but stopped short of including language that would include LGBTI people.

Amid cheers and applause, the U.N. labor agency's 12-day International Labor Conference wrapped up its last day by approving the ILO Convention on Violence and Harassment. The conference drew 5,000 delegates from among ILO's 187 member nations.

The new treaty and an accompanying non-binding recommendation that provides guidance on the convention’s obligations were adopted by a vote of 439-7 with 30 abstentions. It now goes to member nations for ratification.

It was the first time that a person's right to work in an environment free from violence and harassment was spelled out in an international treaty, which also recognizes that such behavior “can constitute a human rights violation or abuse" and represents "a threat to equal opportunities, is unacceptable and incompatible with decent work.”

It says nations have a responsibility to promote a “general environment of zero tolerance" for workplace violence and harassment. But definitions of workplace violence and harassment vary. The ILO defined it “a range of unacceptable behaviors and practices” that "aim at, result in, or are likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm.”

A proposal to protect LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex) people was excluded, due to disagreement over employers' responsibilities and opposition from African member nations.

Right to work free of violence

The ILO, created in 1919 as part of the Treaty of Versailles that helped end the 20th century’s first global catastrophe, became a United Nations specialized agency in 1946.

As the only international organization of its kind that combines representatives of governments, employers and workers, ILO identified workplace harassment and violence as an important issue in 2015 — before the #MeToo movement emerged.

"The new standards recognize the right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment," said ILO's Director-General Guy Ryder, who credited the #MeToo movement with providing momentum for the treaty, which was negotiated for two years.

The new treaty potentially covers a range of behaviors including physical and verbal abuse, bullying and mobbing, sexual harassment, threats and stalking. It also takes into account the increasing use of telecommuting and other forms of work that does not necessarily occur in a shared physical setting.

All kinds of work relationships and arrangements are included, regardless of a person's contractual status, such as volunteers, interns, contractors and job applicants. The treaty applies to public service and private business and to formal versus informal economic activities, which refer to jobs not regulated or protected by government.

Rothna Begum, a senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said governments, workers and employers made history by adopting a treaty that sets standards for ending the scourge of violence and harassment in the world of work.

“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,” she said.