As the Me Too movement takes the world by storm, the International Labor Organization kicked off its annual meeting Monday in Geneva with discussions aimed at setting the first international rules to end sexual and other types of harassment at work.
At the U.N. agency’s conference, which runs through June 8 and brings together governments, employers and workers from 187 member states, participants will discuss standards to fight workplace violence and harassment so they can be adopted at next year’s ILO meeting.
In a report compiled to facilitate discussions at the conference, the ILO said, “Violence and harassment in the world of work produces devastating effects on individuals, enterprises, economies and societies,” and called for measures to address the issue.
The report reviewed the situation in 80 countries and found 60 of them regulate physical and psychological forms of violence and harassment in the world of work. It also noted there is currently no international legal standard that addresses violence and harassment in the workplace and provides a definition and scope for it.
The document defined harassment as “a continuum of unacceptable behaviors and practices that are likely to result in physical, psychological or sexual harm or suffering” and said its victims could include job seekers and interns.
As for the envisioned standards, the ILO conference is expected to discuss whether there should be a legally binding convention, a nonbinding recommendation or a combination of a convention complemented by a recommendation with more detailed and practical guidance on how to translate the principles embedded in the convention into action.
Although more than 90 percent of labor organizations worldwide, including Japan’s largest union — the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) — supported the strictest third option in a questionnaire prior to the ILO conference, the Japanese government said it believes the second option would be more effective.
“A recommendation would be more flexible than a convention that would clearly set rules. But (Japan) will decide its policy after examining other countries’ opinions,” a labor ministry official said before the meeting.
Japan does not prohibit violence and harassment in workplace by law. The ILO report also found 45.2 percent of workers reported “power harassment” in a 2012 survey of 4,580 enterprises in Japan and said it “shows the depth of the problem.”