4 Things We Need To Address Before the International Labour Conference

4 Things We Need To Address Before the International Labour Conference


The International Labour Organization’s (ILO) new Yellow Report, Ending Violence and Harassment in the World of Work, was published in March, right in time for the International Labour Conference (ILC) this May. This critically important report couldn’t have come at a better time and it’s giving the global community a lot to discuss. 

The ILO is a UN agency that brings together governments, employers, and worker representatives from 187 member states to promote social justice and internationally recognized human and labor rights. Together, they set labor standards, develop policies, and devise programs that promote decent workplace conditions around the world, and they meet annually at the International Labour Conference. This year’s ILC theme targets one of 2018’s hottest topics - #MeToo and #TimesUp - and addresses workplace violence and harassment as a universal, pervasive, and destructive problem.

The Yellow Report took input from 85 member states plus employers, unions, and civil society members who replied to a comprehensive questionnaire about workplace violence and harassment. Based on responses, the ILO proposed a new Convention to end violence and harassment in the world of work plus key recommendations and wide-ranging provisions for how countries can meet this goal.

CARE considers the ILO Convention an important step in the right direction toward achieving workplace equity and protections for women and girls globally. However, gaps in four key areas must be addressed at next month’s ILC and before the Convention goes up for a vote.

Women in the workplace deserve better protections from violence and sexual harassment.


1. A Recommendation isn’t enough

ILO works with two types of ‘instruments’ – Conventions and Recommendations:

  • A Convention is a legally binding international treaty. When ILO member states ratify a Convention, they commit to applying it in national law and practice and reporting regularly on its application. Conventions also provide a mechanism for complaints to be filed against countries that stand in violation.
  • A Recommendation is a non-binding guideline that either supplements a Convention on its application; or, stands on its own, not linked to any Convention.  It carries no substantive obligations and is framed so that States can decide for themselves how it will be applied.

Currently the ILO Office wants the ILC to endorse both a Convention and a Recommendation to provide national and international legal status and detailed guidance on how to end workplace violence and harassment. Without that legal traction, some countries will be unmotivated to change and enforce workplace laws. 

Government members will vote on the ILO’s Convention next month and currently 194 trade unions stand in favor of their recommendations. Among governments and employer organizations, however, support is a bit more mixed.  Furthermore, some governments (including the United States) that will vote next month never replied to the ILO’s questionnaire and their input isn’t included in the report or recommendations. This raises concerns about whether the ILO’s Convention and Recommendation will have enough support to put in motion the wide-ranging and sophisticated measures they propose for ending workplace violence and harassment.

2. Redefine workers and workplaces

CARE wants to ensure underrepresented worker groups that are particularly vulnerable to workplace violence and harassment, including domestic workers and sex workers, be included within the Convention. While current language doesn’t specifically exclude them, CARE suggests they be explicitly listed in the document where other worker ‘types’ are mentioned.

We also propose that definitions, such as those for workers, cover persons in all sectors, both in formal and informal economies and urban and rural areas, and that workplaces include public and private spaces. We want to ensure these definitions are wide enough to cover the primarily female workers who we are most concerned about having little protection or voice.

3. Include unpaid care workers

Unpaid care work for children, the elderly, sick, and disabled is usually done by women. It isn’t widely recognized or included in the world of work though it plays a critical role in supporting global economies.

The Yellow Report doesn’t discuss unpaid care workers other than mentioning that some unions requested they be included. Part of the problem may be that these workers don’t fit easily into the ILO structure of government, employers, and unions and it’s hard to define who the employer is. However, ILO instruments ensure that governments put in place legislative and administrative frameworks and processes to ensure worker rights and there’s a lot they can do to ensure unpaid care workers have the same protection as other workers.

4. Cover company value chains

Women are more likely to experience sexual harassment and violence in the workplace than men.Company policies and practices at the top of value chains drive levels of violence and harassment across industries and impact workers in many countries. For instance, research by CARE in the Cambodian garment industry showed that nearly one in three women working in garment factories report having experienced harassment in the workplace over the last 12 months. The Ethical Trade Initiative’s (ETI) Guide to Buying Responsibly clearly shows the link from poor purchasing practices by companies at the top of the value chain to “harassment and abuse [of workers] from management.” The concept of corporate supply chains is completely missing from the Convention though.

CARE suggests the Convention reference the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP) in its Preamble, which states, “The responsibility to respect human rights requires that business enterprises… avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities, and address such impacts when they occur” and that “adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships” are included thus bringing into the sphere of responsibility their value chains.”


More than 50,000 people worldwide have signed their name in solidarity with women facing violence at work. In April, ILO leadership recognized the significance of this legislation and announced it will accelerate the schedule to approve the international treaty in June of next year, coinciding with the centennial convening of the ILO. But there’s still work to be done - help us get to 100,000 signatures by signing the petition to demand legal protections for women at work everywhere.

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