Workplace Ethics: Exploited and Discriminated

Whilst the majority of our nation benefits from the protective mechanisms of employment law, there still remains a dark under-world where the only ‘protective’ mechanism set in place is to the advantage of an unscrupulous employer.

According to startling figures issued by the International Labour Organization (ILO), there are 21 million victims of forced labour; 11.4 million are women and girls, and 9.5 million and men and boys. Therefore, it is clear that not only are adults still suffering the tyranny of forced labour, children are exploited as well. Harrowingly, 4.5 million people are forced into sexual slavery; 2 million of which are sanctioned by States and rebel groups.

The ILO is a specialised agency of the United Nations (UN). Their mission is to ‘promote rights at work, encourage decent employment opportunities, enhance social protection and strengthen dialogue on the work-related issues’.

The ILO releases conventions and declarations concerning issues ranging from forced employment, employer and worker obligations in the work place, to the fair and equal treatment of women at work. In this instance, the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention 1957, which also entered into force in the UK in 1957, was devised to prohibit the use of forced labour by organisations and individuals.

Despite the presence of this convention, forced labour remains a very real and present international practice. In a report published recently by the ILO, Madagascar has 1,237 prostitutes in the capital of Antananarivo, 1,132 of which were younger than 18. Bernadette, a sex worker in Madagascar, revealed she first started at the age of 13. The Director of the ILO office in Antananarivo, Christian Ntsay, commented that “the commercial sexual exploitation of children undermines Malagasy society”. He further added that with the help of the ILO, 1000 children have been rescued from ‘situations of sexual exploitation’.

A key international children’s’ rights treaty also protects the rights of children. Article 34 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 (CRC) protects children from sexual exploitation and abuse. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966 (ICESCR) commands the protection of children from economic and social exploitation. Article 3(10) of the ICESCR prescribes punishment by law for the recruitment of children into employment ‘harmful to their morals, health or dangerous to life; or to hamper their normal development’.

Thankfully, the UK has a moral back-bone, and so manages to maintain its polished armour in the arena of employment standards. Or does it? The Fawcett Society reveals that women still earn 15% less per hour than men. Translating this statistic into working days, women work without pay from the 7th November until January 1st. Despite the presence of the UK’s Equal Pay Act 1970, there is a gap in pay for women in working full time in the public sector; the gap is ever wider in the private sector. One reason for the discrepancy in pay was submitted by a Channel 4 investigation, finding that women are still considered the main carers and are entitled to more paid leave than their male partners after they have a baby.

The Declaration on Equality of Opportunity and Treatment for Women Workers was adopted by the International Labour Conference in 1975 on the occasion of International Women’s Year. It recognizes equality of opportunity and treatment for all workers and calls for the elimination of all forms of discrimination on grounds of sex which deny or restrict such equality. The Conference issued other resolutions concerning gender equality in between 1981 and 2009.

International law strikes against this unjustifiable gap in pay with its binding treaty the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which the UK is also party to. Article 11 of CEDAW, along with Article 7 of the ICESCR stipulates the equal rights of men and women with regards to employment opportunities, treatment and pay.

Certainly the ‘maternity-leave’ argument serves as a fallible and fallacious defence, given all staff should receive equal pay for the same role carried out for the time that they are performing it. The discussion of ‘which gender performs better’ is an unintelligible one – jobs are carried out by people, not genders. Just as race, sexual orientation and creed have no bearing on how one recruits the perfect candidate for their esteemed corporate client, neither does gender. Nor should it.

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