Ruma's letter to G7 leaders

Ruma Bangladesh

Dear G7 leaders,

Violence and harassment in the world of work is pernicious and disturbingly still ubiquitous. It is a violation of human rights with multiple knock-ons. It is one of the main drivers of the gender pay gap and of women’s lower participation in the workforce and can affect women at any stage of their working lives. 

As a garment worker and President of a Community Worker Association in Gazipur, Bangladesh, I know first-hand the risks women face in the workplace. A shocking 80% of garment workers in Bangladesh have either seen or directly experienced sexual violence or harassment in the workplace. Globally, estimates suggest as many as 2 billion women have experienced sexual harassment at work. Fear of violence is also a huge barrier to women’s access to decent work. Minoritised groups are especially at risk since violence is driven by all power imbalances, not just those based on gender. Violence also breeds where there is defeatism and social norms that turn a blind eye. 

The International Labour Organisation’s Violence and Harassment Convention (C190), which 129 governments voted for in June 2019 is an important tool that can help address injustices in the workplace. This ground-breaking treaty is the first international labour law that recognises everyone’s right to work free from violence and harassment.  Strong and inclusive in scope, the Convention covers all workers, regardless of their contractual status, and regardless of where they are working. Whilst it rightly doesn’t apply only to women, it does identify women as being particularly vulnerable to violence and harassment. The Convention includes home-based workers in its scope; and it instructs governments and employers to take into account the impacts of domestic violence in the world of work.  

While some countries such as the UK, Italy have recently ratified the Convention, we need all G7 countries to properly and urgently ratify and implement it too. This includes necessary changes in domestic regulations and ensuring high standards of prevention, protection and remedy from governments and employers. While this Convention is not ratified, buyers should look for compliant suppliers who adhere to protocols under C190 so workers within supply industries such as garment work in Bangladesh are protected. 

That’s why I’m calling on the G7 countries to commit to ratify and implement C190 and ensure that women can exist in workplaces free from fear of human rights violation. 

Yours faithfully