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Safeguards Against Sexual Abuse of Female Workers in MNCs

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Human Resources
Wordcount: 5193 words Published: 26th Oct 2021

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Do Multinational Corporations have effective Safeguards and Remedies against routine Sexual Harassment, Physical and Sexual Abuse of Female Workers?

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations 3

Introduction 4

Sexual Harassment and Assault - Definition and Reporting 4

Addressing Violence and Sexual Harassment against Women 6

An Introduction to Human Rights 7

The Core International Human Rights' Instruments 9

Quick Take on Sexual Discrimination and Harassment 10

Safeguards against Sexual Harassment - View from Multinational Companies 11

Effective measures to combat Sexual Violence at the Workplace 14

Conclusion 14

References 16

List of Illustrations

Figure 1 Definition of sexual harassment, by region (International Labor Office, 2018)​ 6

Figure 2:​ Workplace sexual harassment regulations (International Labor Office, 2018) 8


The famous #MeToo​ ​ movement across the globe has raised concerns over the sexual harassment against women at work or publicly and the effect it has on women's lives. Studies show that workplace sexual harassment is widespread as the ratio is 6/8 to 10. Sexual harassment brings serious consequences for women at work and in their personal lives. Targeted women experience physical, mental, and emotional problems, career breaks, and lack of motivation to work and progress in their careers. Along with this, sexual harassment leads to discouragement that creates such an impact on women that restricts them from advancing into higher paid careers and hence limits their growth as an individual.

This paper researches the current literature on sexual harassment on women, assault, and difficult working conditions, the laws applicable to deal with those incidents, safeguards, and remedies executed by multinational corporations to protect women through workplace abuse and harassment.

Sexual Harassment and Assault - Definition and Reporting

The United States' Department of Justice defines sexual assault as a form of the non-consensual sexual act when the victim or the target lacks the consenting capacity (Feldblum & Lipnic, 2016; 2). Sexual harassment is a criminal offense, but the Office of Violence against Women under the Department of Justice also recognizes sexual harassment as a means of discriminating employment. Sexual or Gender-based harassment is considered discrimination in terms of human rights legislation. Sexual abuse involves unwanted, non-consensual, and any form of verbal behavior that offends or humiliates another gender, in this case, Women. Human rights legislation across the globe defined sexual harassment as a form of engaging in conduct or vexatious comments being passed on to the opposite gender which is out to be known as unwelcome.

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According to Keplinger, Johnson & Barnes (2019), sexual harassment has been a prominent part of the workplace environment since women started to get into a professional environment by leaving their comfort zones. The true historical stats do not exist as such, but​ large scale surveys to date of working women indicate that every 1 in 2 women will be harassed at some point in their working or academic lives (Mateo & Menza, 2017). The author further explains that sexual harassment is degrading, mentally disturbing, and physically violent that may lead to health-related, psychological, and job-related consequences. Over the last few years, sexual harassment awareness and mistreatment of women in the workplace have grown incredibly.

Sexual violence is considered sex discrimination that usually combines various elements, ranging from physical and psychological abuse, along with some unpleasant remarks or jokes thrown at the opposite gender. The Committee of Experts on the Application of Convention and Recommendations (CEARC) categorizes workplace sexual harassment as a "quid pro quo" and "hostile working environment" based on the survey carried out to define sexual harassment by regions. The survey generated results for 65 countries, out of which 31 countries. i.e., 48% defines sexual harassment as a combination of a hostile working environment and quid pro sexual harassment as shown below:

Figure 1: Definition of sexual harassment, by region (International Labor Office, 2018)​

Addressing Violence and Sexual Harassment against Women

Approximately 80% of the women in the United States report sexual violence and abuse at their workplace (Cortina & Berdahl, 2008). Sexual harassment has largely been categorized as a women's issue. This doesn't mean that men are not subject to sexual violence. But, as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (2016) says, men are sexually abused less frequently as compared to women and thus they have lower experiences of sexual harassment.

The United States' Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, i.e EEOC defined sexual harassment as an unwelcome sexual act made towards women or men. This not only creates a safe working environment but also a hostile atmosphere. Less than half the percentages of​ women who experience sexual harassment never really report it. Various reasons exist, for not reporting sexual abuse, ranging from threats to self-esteem, lack of confidence in protective laws for women at work, risk of victimization, and fear of losing jobs and not able to get jobs in the future. The Stigma theory captures these fears. The theory explains that individuals avoid sharing their stigmas due to shame, fear, negative judgment, and lack of confidence that leads to self-doubt and hence they refrain from reporting sexual harassment and similar violence (International Labour Office, 2018).

An Introduction to Human Rights

The UN Women organization also examined the relationship between gender-based violence and the workplace (ICPD Task Force, 2013). The United Nations' Women wing administers the Global database that keeps records of violence against Women. It also collects information on regulations, laws, and other measures taken by government authorities to address all forms of violence against women. Along with this, a UN woman also has a UN Trust Fund to end Violence against women in the workplace and in every other walk of life. The UN Women Trust has supported over 400 multinational organizations over the last two decades by focusing on violence prevention, implementation of laws and policies, and improving access to services for the sexual harassment survivors.

Various initiatives have been taken globally and at an international level by trade unions and employers' federations to deal with violence and harassment at the workplace. The​ International Trade Union, i.e. ITU have issued a mandate to deal with sexual violence at the workplace in 2008 (International Trade Union, 2008). Along with this, the IOE i.e., International​ Organisation of Employers addressed the sexual harassment issue in their brief policy that outlines the fact that workplace violence is not only a human right issue but extends its footprints to an economic front as well as it not only disturbs the victim physically and mentally, but also impairs productivity, employee turnover, accidents, and also results in hampering job performance. a survey done by World Bank in 2015 showed that 114 out of 173 countries had some form of legislation regulating sexual harassment at the workplace in one way or another. Out of the 8- countries under investigation, 65 countries, i.e. about 81% regulates sexual harassment at work as shown below:

Figure 2:​ Workplace sexual harassment regulations (International Labor Office, 2018)

The few key components of any legislation to deal with sexual harassment at the workplace should include protection against victimization, a detailed explanation of sexual harassment including the prohibited conduct, and an establishment of the administrative body to handle all the complaints and promote the law and its application. The next few paragraphs will discuss some of the core international human rights instruments and their monitoring bodies. Following this, the next section will cover some of the effective safeguards and policies implemented by multinational companies to deal with routine sexual harassment, physical and sexual abuse of female workers.

The Core International Human Rights' Instruments

This section will discuss a few of the core international human rights instruments. Each of these instruments was established and is monitored by a committee of experts that monitor the treaties' implementation and regulates the laws associated with it. One of the most common​ Instruments in regards to the International Human Rights is the International Convention of the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, i.e. (ICERD). The convention was established in 1965 and focuses on eliminating racial discrimination and also focuses on promoting safeguards against sexual discrimination. This treaty encourages the freedom of right given to every individual irrespective of sex, religion, or culture (International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, 2019).

Another Instrument is the Convention of the Elimination of all forms of discrimination against Women, i.e. CEDAW which was established on 18th December 1979 (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 2019). The treaty was adopted by​ the UN in 1979 and entered into force in 1981. Around 100 nations agreed to be bound by its provisions by the 10th anniversary of the treaty. This convention was established as a result of continuous hard work of 30 years by the UN Commission on Women Status (an individual independent body to monitor and govern women's rights). This convention brings the women​ rights as a focus of human rights and explains the equality of rights for both men and women. This convention plays an important role in women's rights in the workplace as it not only establishes the international bill of rights for women but also sets an agenda for action by the countries to guarantee those rights are never exploited.

The next few sections will discuss the current policies that exist in the workplace to safeguard women's' rights against sexual harassment, physical and sexual abuse. Discrimination, equality, and human rights protection are closely related to each other.

Quick Take on Sexual Discrimination and Harassment

The UN's Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women defined sexual harassment of women as a way of sexual advances made, including physical contact against the consent of the victim, in this case, women. This form of conduct is usually humiliating and constitutes a health and safety concern for women in the workplace. The laws and definitions in place to deal with sexual harassment across the globe varies by different countries.

In Australia, the Sex Discrimination Act makes sexual harassment and physical abuse illegal. It also prohibits sex discrimination, along with discrimination based on family status, relationship status, or type of work (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2012).

According to a report published by the Australian Human Rights Commission, almost 49% of working women, especially mothers, experience sexual harassment at the workplace. Out of these, 32% resigned and moved to a different job (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2012).

In Canada, 3 out of 10 Canadians experienced sexual harassment at the workplace out of which 43% were women (Canadian Human Rights Commission's, 2016).

Sex Discrimination is strictly prohibited in the European Union Nations. The EU protects women from gender-based violence through legislation, popularly known as EU Directive. The EU directive laid out the framework through which women are entitled to specialized support who have been subjected to sexual violence and abuse (European Commission, 2019).

India's constitution prohibits sex discrimination, along with its law passed to ban sexual harassment and violence at the workplace in 2013 (Ministry of Women and Child Development, 2019).

One in four women is subjected to sexual violence in the Workplace in the United States of America. The Civil Rights Act (1964) prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of color, race, origin, culture, sex, or ethnicity (Gramlich, 2017).

Safeguards against Sexual Harassment - View from Multinational Companies

The World Bank addresses violence against women by investing in measures, research, learning, policies, and collaborating with stakeholders around the world. The World Bank has engaged with countries across the globe and partnered with various stakeholders since 2003 to support projects that invest in safeguarding women at the workplace against sexual abuse, harassment, and violence.

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The World Bank supports over $300 million in standalone and group projects that aim at dealing with gender-based violence at the workplace. Along with this, the World Bank launched the Global Gender-Based Violence Task Force in October 2016 to strengthen the efforts of preventing sexual harassment at the workplace by using the Good Practice Note (GPN). This note not only helps in identifying sexual harassment and gender-based violence offenses but also helps the stakeholders in dealing with such situations at the workplace (The World Bank, 2019).

In the United Kingdom, the law prohibiting sexual violence was set out in the Equity Act of 2010. Employers in the UK are liable for any sexual misconduct by their employees. In Italy, the relevant law is the Code of Equal Opportunities since 2006 which makes the employer liable for any sexual harassment occurring at their workplace. Employers need to draft clear policies for sexual misconduct and its consequences (Laboris, 2017). Vartia and Leka (2010) outline a​ series of initiatives that should be taken by multinational companies to manage bullying, sexual violence, gender-based discrimination, physical abuse, or racial slur at the workplace.

The EU member states have specific legislation that considers bullying at work a criminal offense. While some other EU states enact it as the Occupational Health and Safety Legislation. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union is legally binding and holds human dignity inviolable. The framework directive holds employers accountable for psychological risk management and holds them responsible for ensuring the safety and health of workers in every aspect related to the workplace environment (Hoel & Vartia, 2018).

Most of the multinational companies incorporate sexual violence and harassment as a part of their code of conduct. This is to ensure that they work with state and federal governments to implement the right legislation within their companies. Air Canada is one such company that has Workplace Violence and Harassment Prevention Policy, Safety Policy, and Safety/Security Reporting Policy all its workers (Air Canada, 2019). Vice Media is a billion-dollar global digital media broadcasting company that fired three of its employees in November 2017 following the sexual violence reports, along with two of its top executives after they were exposed publicly. The company has an advisory board that educates employees on workplace conduct issues and diversity. One of the top 10 Employers of 2019, Alphabet or Google, Inc. outlines equal opportunity employment and its policies against harassment, discrimination, and bullying in its code of conduct. Along with this, the corporation also commits to providing a safe workplace environment for its employees.

One of the high profile companies, 21st Century Fox has created a "Fox News Workplace Professionalism and Inclusion Council" that is responsible for advancing women and minorities in the company, while making sure that the employees are able to work in a safe judgment and violence-free environment. This decision came in from the management following a settlement of $145 million to a former Vice President of the Enterprise Rights Management who filed a lawsuit claiming that she was a target of repeated sexual assault by her superiors and she was terminated because of her gender, i.e. being a woman cost her, her job and her career (Fenton, 2018). Another example is PepsiCo that has detailed its code of conduct with a strong focus on anti-harassment policy. Their policy focuses on providing a safe and harassment-free work environment for its employees. PepsiCo complies with all the country and local laws prohibiting harassment in the workplace.

One of the most recognized brands and a global leader in IT products, Apple Incorporation invests a handsome amount of its time and budget on training employees on human rights and their rights at the workplace. Apple has trained more than 17.3 million people since 2007 on their individual rights at the workplace. Apple promotes a safe and respectful workplace for all its employees. One of the leading home appliance companies in the world, Whirlpool, also stands by the jurisdiction of prohibiting sexual harassment and promoting a culture of nondiscrimination at workplace. They have a clearly defined sexual harassment policy that forbids sexual violence and harassment based on gender. The detailed policy also outlines the procedures to be taken by employees if they are subject to sexual harassment at the workplace (Whirlpool Corporation, 2019).

Effective measures to combat Sexual Violence at the Workplace

Though all the multinational companies have sexual harassment and anti-discrimination policies as a part of their code of conduct. However, still, there are places where sexual violence and non-consensual behavior is common. A cultural shift demands increased responsibility and accountability to deal with gender-based sexual violence at the workplace. What does it actually take to resolve such issues? The role of workplace culture is important in determining how sexual harassment can be dealt with. The quest for effective workplace training should be made common. A well defined sexual harassment policy against genders and what constitutes sexual harassment can help in dealing with non-consensual or sexual violence at the workplace. Along with this, employers can invest more on workplace civility and bystander intervention training to build employee trust and give them the empowerment and confidence to speak up if they are a target of any gender-based violence.


Virtually, every 1 in 3 women is subjected to sexual harassment at the workplace, streets, in homes, academia, or any other place. Globally, the #MeToo​ ​ movement has raised concerns over the use and abuse of power gender-based discrimination. Sexual harassment is considered an abuse of power against the opposite gender. it is the social and economic power that men hold over women. Men interfere with women's right to work when they use their power to treat women sexually without her consent. Sexual harassment not only degrades the work performance of an individual but also reflects and reinforces the inequality of gender that exits in the society. Workplace harassment not only reflects women's economic inequality but also shows how unwelcome they are in professions that are mostly dominated by men. Globally, sexual harassment is against the law and there are serious consequences for indulging in such activities. The real solution is raising awareness, making more effective laws that not only stop discrimination, but also provides social, economic, and political equality for women in every walk of life.


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