An Introduction to the International Fight Against Workplace Violence and Harassment

The average person around the world will spend nearly 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime.[1] Therefore, a person’s quality of life can be directly affected based on their employment experiences. Finally, an international stand is being made to protect workers in the place a large portion of their lives are spent. The International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention on Violence and Harassment (C190) and its accompanying Recommendation (No. 206) made history on June 10, 2019, by adopting a standard recognizing the “right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment.”[2] The ILO members’ had a near-unanimous support for the Convention, adopted by a vote of 439-7, suggesting that it would likely be widely ratified.[3] This author believes the C190 Convention is the next crucial step in solving the physical, psychological, sexual, and economic harm that many people face when they go to work each day.

The Convention is crucial in eliminating workplace violence as it provides a comprehensive plan for countries to ensure legal protection from a wide range of discriminatory and violent behaviors by any actor in the work environment.[4] At the time of its adoption, the standard was designed to protect workers by recognizing that violence and harassment in the workplace can constitute as a human rights violation or abuse.[5] This treaty recognizes all types of violence and workplace harassment, including gender-based abuses.[6] For the first time, the ILO provided a single international definition of violence and harassment.[7] The scope of the C190 is broad and applies to all sectors of employment, including everyone in the “world of work,” regardless of their contractual status and even those doing voluntary work or seeking employment.[8] Article XII gives broad deference to its members by including the power to “extend or adapt existing occupational safety and health measures to cover violence and harassment and develop specific measures where necessary.”[9]

After the groundbreaking ratification of C190, ratification by national parliaments began in 2020. So far, ten countries have ratified C190.[10] Uruguay was the first nation to officially implement C190 initiatives on June 12th, 2020, followed by Fiji and Namibia.[11] C190 will next enter into force in Argentina and Somalia in 2022.[12]

The implementation of international labor standards is supervised by a committee of experts that regularly examine the application of the standards and identify areas of improvement.[13] After a nation has ratified C190, the nation must report on the measures it has taken for its implementation on a regular basis.[14]  Subsequently, every six years each signatory nation is required to complete a detailed report discussing their progress, both in terms of legal steps and practical implementations.[15] Governments are then required to release these reports to their employers’ and workers’ organizations. [16]

This author believes more widespread international legal standards addressing workplace violence such as C190, are needed around the world. The C190 Convention provides the proper framework and accountability measures for successful and systemic change. The author understands that the Convention may not be the widespread solution in eliminating violence and harassment in the world of work, yet trusts that C190 is a vital step in achieving this goal. 

[1] Andrew Naber, One Third of Your Life is Spent at Work, Gettysburg College, https://www.gettysburg.edu/news/stories?id=79db7b34-630c-4f49-ad32-4ab9ea48e72b#:~:text=How%20much%20of%20your%20life,at%20work%20over%20a%20lifetime (last visited Mar. 27, 2022).

[2]Int’l Labour Org. [ILO], C190-Violence and Harassment Convention, pmbl. (June 10, 2019), https://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO:12100:P12100_INSTRUMENT_ID:3999810:NO.

[3]  ILO, New International Labour Standard to Combat Violence, Harassment, at Work Agreed, (21 June 2019), https://www.ilo.org/ilc/ILCSessions/108/media-centre/news/WCMS_711321/lang–en/index.htm.

[4] Amy Raub et al., Ending Sexual Harassment at Work: Creating a Baseline on Laws in 193 Countries, John Hopkins Univ. Press, 379 (vol. 43, 2021).

[5] C190-Violence and Harassment Convention, at pmbl.

[6] Id.

[7] Julinda Beqiraj, Am. Soc’y of Int’l Law, 58 I.L.M. 1167, ¶ 3 (2019).

[8] C190-Violence and Harassment Convention, supra note 5, at art. II.

[9] Id. at art. XII.

[10] Int’l Labour Org. [ILO], Ratifications of C190-Violence and Harassment Convention (June 25, 2019), https://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=1000:11300:0::NO:11300:P11300_INSTRUMENT_ID:3999810.

[11] Id.

[12] C190-Violence and Harassment Convention, supra note 7, at art. II.

[13] Int’l Labour Org. [ILO], Violence and harassment in the world of work: A guide on Convention No. 190 and Recommendation No. 206, at 92 ¶ 1, (2021) (The ILO supervisory system is compromised of the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR) and the Conference Committee on the Applicable Standards).

[14] Id. at 92 ¶ 2.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.