An employer’s responsibility to ensure the safety of employees includes keeping them safe from sexual harassment. This is achieved by having a clearly defined, transparent policy and procedures which all employees can access whenever they feel violated. It is the only way to protect both the accused and the accuser. The United Nations recently had to respond to a Sexual Harassment accusation made against a former UNAids Executive Director. I say “former” because he chose not to apply for an extension of his contract after he was publicly accused of sexual harassment and the matter was widely reported in the UK Guardian. Almost as soon as the matter was brought into the open, an investigation was launched and the “UNAids Executive Director recused himself from the final decision-making role in the case in order to avoid any perception of a conflict of interest. Instead, the UNAids Executive Director delegated authority over the case to the Deputy Executive Director for Management.”
This is what a transparent, open and independent process looks like. Why is it so difficult for us to operate at this level? It simply means if you have been accused, you cannot continue to remain at the pinnacle of the organization and preside over the investigation.
In the case of the UNAids, “Luiz Loures, a UN assistant secretary general and the subject of a recent sexual assault allegation stood down from his position. In a media release UNAids said, “Loures would not seek renewal of his contract, which expired at the end of March, adding that the decision had no connection to the allegations against him.” #speakwithforkedtongues.
An internal inquiry cleared Loures of wrongdoing following complaints from a female employee that he assaulted her in a lift. While investigators found the allegations to be unsubstantiated, campaigners said the investigation process was flawed and should have been handled externally.
Sexual Harassment is a complex issue which requires transparency both in the process and the method of selecting the artibers. If either is tainted, the result will be compromised. So in this UNAids case a interest group called Code Blue, wrote to Secretary Guterres, alleging that the investigation was undermined by a conflict of interest, with the executive director of UNAids, Michel Sidibé, who reported to Loures acted both as a witness and as the “final decision-maker” in the case. The group called for Guterres to review the allegations and hand the investigation over to an “external, neutral and independent body”.
Here we go again; a flawed process, despite its transparency, allowed the harasser to escape the brunt of the law. But this issue also attracted the attention of Britain’s secretary of state for international development who: was urged “to call for an independent inquiry into allegations of harassment and sexual misconduct within the agency. In the letter, the Labour MP Gareth Thomas warned of “inadequate processes” for dealing with complaints at UNAids. There has been ‘a decade’s concern about a declining culture in the organisation, described to me as misogynistic and patriarchal,’ ” wrote Thomas, a former minister at the Department for International Development.
Trinidad and Tobago has had two recent cases of Sexual Harassment with fingers pointing to prominent men and in both cases, State Funds has, in my opinion, been used to thwart the investigations. Where is the high level support or interest in the issue? It was the late President ANR Robinson who spoke of “streams into rivers and rivers into seas” and I heard current Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Rowley say “it begins with raindrops”. The raindrop here is a transparent process to investigate Sexual Harassment complaints. If our workplaces are to be safe, there must also be the implementation of sexual harassment policy in all Ministries, State Enterprises and the Military. Come on guys, #Let’s do this!