Background: The Model Workplace Sexual Harassment Policy
In 2013, a number of civil society organizations and a trade union conducted baseline studies on the rampancy of sexual harassment in the cut flower farms of Kenya (Conducted by Workers Rights Watch – WRW), Uganda (Conducted by Uganda Workers’ Education Association – UWEA), Tanzania (Conducted by Tanzania Plantation and Agricultural Workers’ Union – TPAWU) and in Ethiopia (Conducted by the National Federation of Farm, Plantation, Fisheries Agro-Industry Trade Union – NFFPFATU).
The studies revealed that sexual harassment in the work-place was common, yet widely unacknowledged. This wall of silence meant that the sector did not consider sexual harassment a challenge to which it should address itself. Many flower farms did not have workplace sexual harassment policies, even though municipal laws required that they do. Some of the farms that had sexual harassment policies did not have strong and viable structures for implementing the said policy. In certain farms, the available policies were sorely inadequate. To compound matters, in a number of labour catchment communities, sexual harassment was not seen as amounting to an offence or an infraction worthy of losing one’s job, standing in society, or marriage, over. Lastly and most challenging, there was a near universal lack of knowledge and understanding about the meaning, scope and effects of sexual harassment.
In 2015, in Kenya, WRW and WWW, working in collaboration with KFC, Fairtrade Africa and 7 flower farms in Kenya, co-developed the model sexual harassment policy as part of a pilot project implemented in the 7 flower farms of Kenya. The project’s aim was to develop participatory and sustainable workplace structures that protect women workers from sexual harassment. The policy would define sexual harassment and spell out the measures required for its implementation at farm level as well as the structures responsible for aspects of ensuring its implementation.
The implementation phase involved training of supervisors and managers of flower farms on both the substantive provisions of law relating to sexual harassment as well as the practical mechanisms for preventing or redressing sexual harassment. Gender Committees in the respective farms were also trained on how to handle reported cases as well as their broader functions in regards to contributing to the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace. Ultimately, the duty of implementing the policy would fall upon the management through the management structures and the Gender Committee. The workplace shop stewards would be tasked with monitoring the implementation of the policy, on a day to day basis.
Following the close of the pilot project, a number of milestones towards protecting workers from sexual harassment have been registered. There is a general acknowledgement of the presence – latent or open – of sexual harassment in the work-place and an emerging consensus that the sector should collaboratively tackle the problem. The pilot project is a step towards the development of sustainable structures at the workplace for addressing sexual harassment, in line with the law. The process has yielded a number of best practices to be consolidated and advanced. Among the key gains or opportunities yielded by the partnership includes the potential utility of the sustainability certification framework to advance persuasive regulation upon business practices as relates to sexual harassment. The Fairtrade and Kenya Flower Council certification standards have been demonstrably established as crucial and sustainable avenues of sustaining the vision of the project.
The pilot experience has also exposed structural, legal and policy challenges that need to be addressed. The project experience also revealed that addressing sexual harassment at the workplace calls for intervening both at the workplace and in the host community, to address knowledge, attitudes and capacities. Often, cultural – and sometimes, harmful – practices diffuse from the labour catchment community to the workplace. Still, in regards to societal norms and beliefs, the project better appreciates the complexities of cultural relativism – the idea that a person’s beliefs and activities should be understood based on that person’s own culture – albeit tempered with universally acceptable best practices and jus cogens. Whereas the project has traditionally had a bias on protecting women workers, in particular, from sexual harassment, the strategic benefits of male-engagement in project programming have become apparent. Lastly, the project has mainly responded to the rights based theory based on protecting and restoring human dignity and physical security and safety. To gain more traction, the project should also develop practical and empirical business cases for protecting workers from sexual harassment.