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Study Finds Workplace Violence and Harassment Is a Global Problem

More than one in five people (almost 23%) in employment have experienced violence and harassment at work, whether physical, psychological, or sexual, according to a new joint analysis by the U.N.’s International Labour Organization (ILO), Lloyd’s Register Foundation (LRF), and Gallup.

Experiences of Violence and Harassment at Work: A global first survey” provides a sense of the extent of the problem and its different forms. It also looks at the factors that may prevent people from talking about their experiences, including shame, guilt, or a lack of trust in institutions, or because such unacceptable behaviors are seen as “normal.”

Violence and harassment at work is difficult to measure. The report found that only half of victims worldwide had disclosed their experiences to someone else, and often only after they had suffered more than one form of violence and harassment. The most common reasons given for non-disclosure were “waste of time” and “fear for their reputation.” Women were more likely to share their experiences than men (60.7% compared to 50.1%).

Globally, 17.9% of employed men and women said they had experienced psychological violence and harassment in their working life, and 8.5% had faced physical violence and harassment, with more men than women experiencing this. Of respondents, 6.3% reported facing sexual violence and harassment, with women being particularly exposed.

The groups most likely to be affected by different types of violence and harassment include youth, migrant workers, and wage and salaried women and men. Young women were twice as likely as young men to have faced sexual violence and harassment, and migrant women were almost twice as likely as non-migrant women to report sexual violence and harassment.

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

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“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. “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 [the] 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.”

The ILO’s Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019 (No. 190)  and Recommendation (No. 206)  are the first international labor 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 sets out the obligation to respect, promote, and realize this.

“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, Partner at Gallup. “For too long, companies and organizations have been unaware or unwilling to tackle violence and harassment in the workplace. This dataset provides a baseline that we can all use to track much-needed progress on this vital safety issue.”

The report makes a range of recommendations, including:

  • 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 programs, and research and advocacy.
  • Extend and update mechanisms to effectively prevent and manage violence and harassment in the world of work, including through labor inspection systems and occupational safety and health policies and programs.
  • Increase awareness of violence and harassment at work, including its different manifestations, with a view to changing perceptions, stigmas, attitudes, and behaviors 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 years or older in 121 countries and territories, as part of the Lloyd’s Register Foundation World Risk Poll. The full report is available here.