By: Adina Aamir, Cornell MPS Global Development – Class of ’23
On October 6, DC LERA hosted a webinar for its 3rd Annual Labor Law Forum to discuss US and international perspectives on sexual harassment in organized and unorganized workplaces.
Moderated by Tequila Brooks, a Comparative Labor and Employment Law Scholar, the discussion featured presentations by ITUC’s expert on gender equality and domestic work issues Marieke Koning, International Coordinator of the Asia Floor Wage Alliance Anannya Bhattacharjee, adjunct professor at University of Maryland and Michigan State University Stacy Hickox, and Princeton University postdoctoral fellow Garima Sharma.
Introducing the discussion, Marieke Koning talked about the ITUC’s #RatifyC190 Campaign which calls on governments to adopt the International Labour Organization’s Convention 190 (C190)1 on Violence and Harassment in the World of Work.
C190 is the first international treaty to recognize the right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment, including gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH).
Representing 191 million workers from 167 countries, the ITUC has been supporting its affiliates in their initiatives to promote and advance C190. Marieke mentioned that countries like Lesotho, South Africa, and France have ratified C190, and other like Pakistan and Indonesia have made progress in making dignified and decent work a reality for all.
Following Marieke’s presentation on ITUC’s international efforts to end GBVH, Anannya Bhattacharjee shifted the focus to an innovative example of reducing violence and harassment in clothing factories. The Dindigul Agreement, a first of its kind in the Asian garment industry, delivers power and support to women workers to monitor, prevent, and remediate GBVH collectively and with management.
Negotiated by the Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labour Union (TTCU), the agreement was established in response to the horrific violence and harassment that took the life of Jeyasre Kathiravel at a factory supplying to H&M. It legally holds both suppliers and fashion brands accountable to prevent such violence in their factories and has led to a remarkable 67% decrease in employee attrition rates and 98% grievance resolution rate.
After these two examples from the World of Work, Stacy Hickox turned the conversation to academic research on GBVH reduction. She discussed findings from the paper she co-authored with Michelle Kaminsky questioning whether arbitration, a form of alternative dispute resolution designated in collective bargaining agreements to resolve conflicts between employers and employees, is an effective method for resolving issues of workplace harassment. In cases where employers discipline employees based on reports of harassment, an alleged harasser can file a grievance requiring their employer to show a just cause for disciplining them. Hickox and Kaminsky found that in 54.1% of arbitrations they examined for the period 2008-2018 the discipline of the alleged harassers was upheld, while discipline was reduced in 29.7% and overturned in 16.2% of cases.
Their overall finding was that arbitration can sometimes offer a resolution in such situations but only if supported by an adequate policy framework. Rather than relying on arbitrators to eradicate harassment, Stacy recommends that employers and unions work together to holistically address the issue.
After some very engaging presentations, the last panelist of the series was Garima Sharma a postdoctoral scholar from Princeton University who discussed why workplaces are not better designed for women in this paper and explained how union agreements can support female-friendly jobs.
She used the example of Central Unica dos Trabalhadores (CUT), the largest trade union in Brazil, as it instituted a 50% quota for female representation in its leadership, and compared their performance with other unions that had not implemented any reforms. The study noted an increase in female centered amenities both in paper and practice with no change in wages, greater female workforce participation, and no evidence to indicate men were worse off due to the reforms. She concluded that firms can decrease the gender wage gap by simply shifting institutional priorities.
In summary, the webinar brought together various examples of frontline progress made to protect women in the workplace, and provided recommendations on areas of improvements, particularly highlighting the close collaboration between stakeholders such as unions, employers and international organizations required to reduce GBVH.
- C190 is one of the most comprehensive set of guidelines advancing international labor law by defining violence and harassment as a range of unacceptable behaviors and practices that result in physical, psychological, sexual, or economic harm, and notes the disproportionate impact of such acts faced by those of a particular gender or sex. It extends these protections to all workers, whether formal, informal, interns, applications, and more in all sectors, in the full World of Work. This includes any acts of violence and harassment occurring in the course of, linked with or arising out of work such as in spaces where workers take rest breaks, sanitary facilities, work-related trips, and employer-provided accommodation in addition to the workplace.