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#MeToo arrives at top labor forum

The world's foremost gathering of labor officials wants to universally define workplace harassment and guarantee workers' rights against violence.

GENEVA (AN) — The world's foremost gathering of labor officials wants to universally define workplace harassment and guarantee workers' rights against violence.

The International Labor Organization, or ILO, is the only international organization of its kind that combines representatives of governments, employers and workers. Its annual conference from May 28 to June 8 plans to focus on harassment and violence at work.

More than 5,000 delegates from 187 member nations were attending the conference at the U.N.'s European headquarters in the Palais des Nations.

The ILO, part of the United Nations system, said it identified workplace harassment and violence as an important issue in 2015 — before the #MeToo movement emerged last year. Now, ILO delegates are being asked take up a proposal for a legally binding international treaty or standard in 2019 to strengthen worker protections against harassment and violence.

“It is time to send a clear message that violence and harassment is unacceptable, that it is not a normal part of working life," ILO's Director-General Guy Ryder said. "No group of workers should be left behind in the move to end violence and harassment."

Ryder urged the conference to "reach out to farm and factory workers, migrant and domestic workers, to all those hidden and kept behind locked doors. In going forward, we recall, too, that women are not a homogenous group, and we must make visible the experiences of women with disabilities, lesbian, bisexual and trans women, and women living with HIV."

Last November, Ryder pointed to millions of women who face daily workplace violence and harassment just by collecting paychecks, trying to advance their careers or feeding families.

"With notable exceptions, far too little has been done for far too long to end the culture of impunity, to end the culture of silence," he said in a statement that coincided with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

#MeToo in the global workplace

Three days before the start of ILO's conference, fallen Hollywood movie titan Harvey Weinstein surrendered to New York City police to face charges he raped one woman and forced another to perform oral sex on him in his office.

His arrest came seven months after the allegations destroyed his career and touched off the #MeToo global movement against sexual harassment and assault.

A leading insurance provider for expatriates and international organizations, Clements Worldwide, reported in an annual survey in April that a major cause of loss and risk is the rise in professional and management liability due to global harassment and abuse claims.

"From Hollywood to London W1A, this year’s revelations about sexual harassment and unequal pay have brought banner headlines, moral outrage and swift action to rectify unjust practices and behavior," World Bank Group's CEO Kristalina Georgieva wrote in the Financial Times in March.

She drew attention to a lack of laws covering sexual harassment in the workplace globally, which was among the findings of a World Bank report entitled, "Women, Business and the Law 2018" that measured legal obstacles to women being able to work over the past decade.

"Eliminating barriers discriminating against women could raise labor productivity by as much as 25% in some economies, simply by increasing women’s labor force participation," wrote Georgieva.

"In 123 countries, there are no laws on sexual harassment in education," she wrote. "In 59 countries, there are no laws on sexual harassment in the workplace. And in 18 countries, husbands can legally prevent their wives from working."