People holding signs against sexual harassment at work protest cuts to France's Ministry of Women's Rights budget, July 21, 2017. © 2017 Jeanne Menjoulet/Flickr

“Together, governments and social partners, we say NO to violence and harassment and YES to building a better world of work.” France’s Labour Minister Muriel Pénicaud gave these remarks last year when the International Labour Organization (ILO) adopted landmark global standards to fight violence and harassment at work.

France played an important role in negotiating the ILO Violence and Harassment Convention (C190), and was among the first to pledge to pursue ratification when it was adopted on June 21, 2019. But a year later, France is ceding its leadership role to other countries.

Uruguay became the first country to ratify C190 on June 12, and Fiji is close behind. Others, including Argentina, Ireland, and Italy, also appear to be making rapid progress towards ratifying.

The Covid-19 pandemic highlights the importance of the convention’s standards. Job loss and economic recession place pressure on workers desperate to keep their jobs, making it harder to speak out against abuse. In France, the pandemic contributed to a 30 percent increase in reported domestic violence cases within 2 weeks of lockdown restrictions. The convention and its accompanying Recommendation 206 have guidance on protections so that gender-based violence survivors, including domestic violence victims, can take steps to ensure their safety without fear of losing their jobs.

A Human Rights Watch report released last week highlights several promising examples of how governments can incorporate these protections in national laws.

The French National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH) has noted that while the European Council must authorize member states to ratify, the convention does not conflict with European Union law, and urged France to begin the ratification process. France can regain momentum and show strong public commitment while waiting for the Council’s decision.

Social partners are ready. Last week, Force Ouvrière pushed the government to ratify C190, and for new laws preventing violence and harassment at work. A group of unions and civil society groups, including Confédération Générale du Travail, Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail, Action-Aid Peuples Solidaires, and CARE France, wrote a letter on June 21 also urging ratification and corresponding national reforms. CARE has noted that several businesses have announced their support of the convention, including L’Oreal, BNP Paribas, BBDO France, Sodexo, and Kering.

The time is now. France should reassert its global leadership on fighting violence and harassment at work, publicly announce next steps, and commit to ratifying now.