ILO Convention 190: A milestone in the journey to create safer workplaces for all

This week at Fair Wear, we’re marking a huge milestone in the journey to end gender-based violence in the workplace.

A new international labour standard – ILO Convention 190 – comes into force today after a long, arduous process. The Convention aims to protect workers from violence and harassment in the workplace.

The importance of a safe workplace cannot be overstated, but unfortunately is not a reality for people all over the world, particularly for garment workers:

  • Garment workers in Cambodia report that nearly one in three women experienced sexual harassment at work over a three-month period.
  • In Indonesia, a 2018 study at several factories found that 71% of female garment workers per cent experienced gender-based violence in the world of work, including verbal, sexual, psychological and physical abuse.
  • In Guangzhou, China, a survey found 70% of female factory workers had been sexually harassed at work.
  • Fifty-nine countries do not have any specific legal remedies for sexual harassment at work.

This historic Convention is a step to ensuring that every individual can exercise their right to work in an environment free from violence and harassment, including gender-based violence and harassment.

Violence and harassment in the workplace take many forms, and to reflect this, the legal definitions provided by C190 are broad and encompassing.  Violence and harassment on the basis of gender is explicitly mentioned, not only when one is targeted because of the gender but also when persons of a particular sex or gender as affected disproportionately.

In addition, this Convention has expanded the concept of ‘worker’: all persons directly or indirectly part of or linked to the world of work are protected, including the most vulnerable and precarious workers. It has also extended the definition of ‘workplace’ from the traditional understanding to the ‘world of work’; how work is conceptualized is being redefined to be more inclusive of non-traditional working structures and taking account of the wide variety of how people work. The new definitions have a particular impact on women workers, who make up the majority of the garment sector. The definitions laid out in the Convention show Member States the path to ensuring comprehensive protection for all workers. 

The Convention provides the possibility of forging a future of work based on dignity and respect, free from violence and harassment. We urge all governments to ratify.

Manuela Tomei, Director of ILO’s Conditions of Work and Equality Department.

There is still work to be done: to date, six states have ratified C190—Argentina, Ecuador, Fiji, Namibia, Somalia and Uruguay—but we are still working to encourage Fair Wear active countries to follow suit. States who ratify the Convention will be expected to adopt an inclusive, integrated and gender-responsive approach—developed in consultation with worker representatives and employer organisation—to prevent and eliminate violence and harassment in the world. This includes the requirement that the effects of domestic violence on workers are recognised, and states are required (as far as reasonably practicable) to mitigate its impact.

We’ll continue to share updates on the Fair Wear website and social media channels as we continue to work towards creating safe workplaces for all.