The Issues: Harassment & Abuse

Key Takeaways
  • Millions of workers worldwide are subjected to abuse and harassment in the workplace.
  • Women workers, particularly those in precarious employment, are disproportionately vulnerable to abuse. 
  • Compliance audits can fail to spot harassment as workers are afraid to report it and laws are not properly enforced.

Everyone has the right to be protected from abuse and harassment in the workplace. This can involve physical abuse, the threat of physical abuse, sexual or other types of harassment, verbal abuse or intimidation, from peer workers, supervisors or managers. 

However harassment and abuse remains the daily reality for workers around the world:

Harassment and abuse often goes unreported or is not addressed because workers, especially women, feel unwilling to speak up for fear of further harassment. Typical factory or field ‘compliance’ audits are unlikely to pick up on such sensitive issues, as disclosure requires a level of trust. Behaviour such as yelling at workers on the factory floor can be seen by managers and workers alike as ‘the norm’ for discipline in the workplace, even though such cultures can be demoralising and lead to a less effective and productive workforce.

Women are disproportionately subjected to harassment and abuse, as they are more likely to be in precarious employment, on short-term contracts or on probation, or in more junior positions. They are therefore more vulnerable to maltreatment from supervisors and bosses, as well as from other workers. 

With greater recognition of the problem, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have all now passed laws on sexual harassment, requiring workplaces to have internal complaint committees. However these laws are not always enforced.

Take Action

Companies can support solutions such as:

  • training and awareness-raising both for line supervisors and managers, and for workers themselves – without such awareness and training, it is unlikely that policies, committees, and complaint mechanisms will fully function;
  • adopting anti-harassment policies and committees (including worker representation); 
  • offering worker helplines – established as independent mechanisms that workers can trust;
  • supporting independent trade union presence in the workplace. 

For more information:

ETI Base Code – No harsh or inhumane treatment is allowed 

Better Work brief on sexual harassment

Fair Wear Foundation report on preventing factory floor violence against women

Care International report on sexual harassment in Cambodian garment industry 

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