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More than 1 in 5 worldwide suffering from violence at work: ILO

Violence and harassment at work has affected more than one in five people.
© Unsplash/Heike Trautmann
Violence and harassment at work has affected more than one in five people.

More than 1 in 5 worldwide suffering from violence at work: ILO

Human Rights

More than one in five people employed – almost 23 per cent - have experienced violence and harassment in the workplace, whether physical, psychological or sexual, according to the first ever joint analysis of data worldwide carried out by the UN International Labour Organization (ILO), the independent global charity Lloyd’s Register Foundation (LRF) and analytics and polling company, Gallup.

This first global survey on experiences of violence and harassment at work, aims to provide a better understanding and awareness of an issue rooted in complex economic, social and cultural factors, said ILO in a press release published on Monday.

Experiences of Violence and Harassment at Work: A global first survey  assesses the extent of the problem and looks at the factors that may prevent people from talking about what they’ve gone through, including shame, guilt or a lack of trust in institutions, or because such unacceptable behaviours are seen as “normal”.

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Lack of disclosure

Violence and harassment at work is difficult to measure. The report found that only half of victims worldwide had disclosed their experiences to another person, and often only after they had suffered repeated incidents.

The most common reasons given for non-disclosure were that it was seen as a “waste of time”, leaving people who have been abused, fearing for their reputation. Women were more likely to share their experiences than men (60.7 per cent compared to 50.1 per cent).

Globally, 17.9 per cent of employed men and women said they had experienced psychological violence and harassment at some point in their working life, and 8.5 per cent had faced physical violence and harassment. More men than women report having experienced this.

Of those responding, 6.3 per cent reported facing sexual violence and harassment, “with women being particularly exposed”, said the UN labour agency.

Most at risk

Young people, migrant workers, and salaried women and men have been the most exposed to violence, according to the data.

Young women were twice as likely as young men to have faced sexual violence and harassment, while migrant women were almost twice as likely as non-migrants to report sexual violence and harassment.

More than three out of five victims said they had experienced violence and harassment multiple times, and for the majority, the most recent incident took place within the past five years.

“It’s painful to learn that people face violence and harassment not just once but multiple times in their working lives,” said Manuela Tomei, ILO Assistant Director-General for Governance, Rights and Dialogue.

Tough task ahead

“Psychological violence and harassment is the most prevalent across countries, and women are particularly exposed to sexual violence and harassment. The report tells us about the enormity of task ahead to end violence and harassment in the world of work. I hope it will expedite action on the ground and towards the ratification and implementation of ILO Convention 190.”

ILO’s Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019 (or 190)  and Recommendation (No. 206)  are the first international labour standards to provide a common framework to prevent, remedy and eliminate violence and harassment in the world of work, including gender-based violence and harassment.

The Convention includes the specific recognition, for the first time in international law, of the right of everyone to a world of work, free from violence and harassment, and outlines obligations of signatories towards this end.

Lifting the veil

“Gathering robust data on this highly sensitive issue is challenging but essential. For the first time, this report lifts the veil on this pervasive problem which plagues more than one in five workers globally,” said Andrew Rzepa, a Partner at Gallup. “For too long, companies and organizations have been unaware or unwilling to tackle violence and harassment in the workplace”, he added. “This dataset provides a baseline that we can all use to track much-needed progress on this vital safety issue.”

Sarah Cumbers, Director of Evidence and Insight at Lloyd’s Register Foundation, said that to tackle “global safety challenges as difficult and deep-rooted as violence and harassment at work, it is critical to have good data to understand the extent of the problem and to identify those most at risk, especially in places where little reliable data may have existed previously.

“We are very glad to have been able to work with Gallup and the ILO to make this landmark contribution to filling these data gaps as part of our World Risk Poll, and to provide a benchmark for countries to make improvements, driven by the vitally important ratification of Convention 190.”

Report recommendations

Some of the recommendations offered by the report include:

The regular collection of robust data on violence and harassment at work, at national, regional and global levels, to inform prevention and remediation laws and mechanisms, policies and programmes.

Extending and updating mechanisms to effectively prevent and manage violence and harassment, including through labour inspection systems and occupational safety and health policies and programmes.

Increasing awareness of violence and harassment at work, including its different manifestations, with a view to changing perceptions, stigmas, attitudes and behaviours that can perpetuate violence and harassment, particularly those based on discrimination.

Enhance the capacity of institutions at all levels to deliver effective prevention, remediation and support, to build people’s trust in justice and ensure victims are supported.

The ILO-LRF-Gallup study was based on interviews conducted in 2021 with nearly 75,000 employed individuals aged 15 or older, in 121 countries and territories, as part of the Lloyd’s Register Foundation World Risk Poll.