Observing human rights in the workplace

Both the protection of human rights, and the enforcement of non-discrimination of these rights is an undeniable responsibility of South African businesses. In the wake of Human Rights Day, Lyndy van den Barselaar, managing director of workforce solutions provider Manpower South Africa, stresses that businesses must ensure that they have the necessary policies in place to enforce the guarantees of human rights within the workplace, and ensure that any discrimination is dealt with swiftly and within the stipulations of South African labour law.

Says van den Barselaar, “In the evolving corporate environment, it is often considered a given that businesses adhere to the requirements of South African labour law; and while this may be the case, a concerted effort must be made to ensure that non-discrimination is enforced. In many cases, workplace discrimination is less blatant, often being subtler or more concealed in its execution. This form of discrimination impacts greatly on the discriminated person, often resulting in a less favourable working environment, increased barriers to progression, higher degrees of stress, and lower earning power.”

In South Africa, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language, or birth.

“While South African labour law clearly states that non-discrimination must be enforced within the workplace, we must remember that individual personalities and collective business cultures may inadvertently favour a particular person over another. While it is a reality that we must live with, we must not forget that we should always be striving for the ideal, and should therefore ensure that businesses in South Africa are both aware that discrimination in the workplace still exists, and further that they are equipped to recognise and deal with it.”

The Manpower Group has now for the sixth consecutive year been awarded a place on the Ethisphere Institute’s list of the world’s most ethical companies. The institute aims to promote ethical business standards and practices internally; enable managers and employees to make good choices; and shape future industry standards by introducing tomorrow’s best practices today.

Further, van den Barselaar states that there are a few simple steps businesses can take to ensure non-discrimination in the workplace. These include employee education programmes, continual internal communication campaigns, establishing confidential channels for the reporting of potentially discriminatory practices, and providing a safe and open environment for issues of non-discrimination and human right to be discussed.

“Importantly, leaders within the organisation need to set an example and create an accountable workplace, where issues of discrimination will not be tolerated and perpetrators will be addressed according to strict guidelines and standards,” she says. “This will ensure that employees will also hold each other accountable for acts of discrimination, leading to a conducive working environment.

“We must recognise that, while South Africa has one of the most advanced constitutions and labour policy environments in the world, a great deal of work still needs to be done to ensure that discrimination in the workplace is stamped out permanently.

She concludes by saying that it is only through a dedicated approach from South African businesses to guarantee that all employees are treated fairly and equally that we will reach a stage where we can truly state that the South African business environment is open to all.

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