A NGO Works With Companies to Prevent Sexual Harassment

China Development Brief, no.50 (Summer 2011)

中文 English

This article, which comes out a few days after International Women’s Day (March 8), profiles path-breaking work on sexual harassment by China’s oldest and best-known women’s legal aid NGO: the Zhongze Women’s Legal Aid Center, in collaboration with six Chinese companies. It shows how China, despite its apparent achievements in promoting gender equality, has a long way to go in creating a legal, institutional and cultural environment that is conducive to equal rights for women. For example, issues such as domestic violence and sexual harassment are only now receiving attention in China due to the work of grassroots NGOs like Zhongze and NGO networks that bring together activists, scholars and policymakers, such as the well-known Anti-Domestic Violence Network.

On April 27, 2011, the first NGO-supported mechanism for preventing sexual harassment in the workplace was established in six local companies. A forum to discuss this project was held by the Zhongze Women’s Legal Counseling and Services Center together with academics, NGOs, international organizations, and media1. In developing a rubric for assessing employer responsibility in certain harassment cases, these six companies have gone beyond the legal requirements, taking the initiative in setting up prevention mechanisms, and becoming pioneers in the world of corporate social responsibility.

Sexual harassment in the workplace: an increasingly prominent issue

According to the 1996 International Crime Victims Survey conducted in over thirty countries, harassment directed at female employees is the most prevalent form of sexual harassment in the workplace. Nearly eight percent of all reported rape cases and ten percent of unsuccessful rape attempts have occurred in the workplace. One of the main forms of violence and discrimination towards women, sexual harassment in the workplace has become an increasingly prominent problem facing Chinese society today.

In 2009, Zhongze conducted a survey across Beijing, Guangzhou, Jiangsu, and Hebei with nine different participating companies and a sample of 2000 workers. They found that 23.9% of those surveyed had witnessed or heard of a sexual harassment case within their office, 19.8% said they had personally been victims of sexual harassment, and 5.3% admitted to having sexually harassed a coworker.

In the past few years, Zhongze has spearheaded the movement against workplace sexual harassment, working hard to protect the rights of women, while at the same time pushing for new legislation that would help to prevent future harassment cases. After new amendments to the “Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Women’s Rights” (妇女权益保障法, hereafter Women’s Rights Law) were made in December 2005, highlighted by the addition of a clause outright forbidding sexual harassment, women’s rights in China appeared to have taken a turn for the better.

However, according to scholars of gender equality, the revised “Women’s Rights Law” still contains obvious flaws: it lacks a clear definition of sexual harassment, and fails to provide both a national-level employer-responsibility system, and fixed guidelines for punitive action in sexual harassment cases. Experts also claim that local governments’ implementation of the law is inconsistent.

“Sichuan province’s [implementation measure] has ruled that responsibility lies with the employer, based on the precedent set by two cases in Jintang County,” says Zhongze’s director Li Ying. Zhongze is in great need of support from this kind of pioneering judicial work at the local level, but the strategy adopted in Sichuan remains one of the few of its kind.

The secretary-general of Zhongze Women’s Watch (众泽妇女观察), Lin Lixia, has stated that in spite of these developments, many courts will not hear a case based on sexual harassment for two reasons: first and foremost, the “Women’s Rights Law” is difficult to carry out because it lacks clearly defined punitive measures for handling harassment cases; secondly, the People’s Supreme Court released a newly revised “Requirements for civil cases” which still states that sexual harassment in and of itself is not enough to constitute a case. As proponents of women’s rights, NGOs like Zhongze feel that judicial channels are ineffective, and that waiting for the law to be perfected is a painfully slow process.

In March of 2009, the story of a young woman named Annie (a pseudonym), who sued her Japanese boss Hiroaki Yokoyama after he violated her on a trip to Guangzhou, took the country by storm. However, despite the public support for Annie’s case, Hiroaki was only fined a paltry 3000 RMB. Due to the ambiguity of the law, the Japanese company was absolved of any responsibility in the case. Before filing her complaint, Annie had been sexually harassed by her boss for months. When she finally reported his actions to the company, she was fired immediately. Annie’s “winning” case is an appalling example of the flawed legislation surrounding sexual harassment.

Zhongze’s Li Ying stated that sexual harassment in the workplace is taking place constantly, and that the situation is getting worse. However, victims rarely win cases in court, and many of them lose their job in addition to the case. These violations of the victim’s physical rights and dignity also constitute a violation of their right to labor and development.

Examples from abroad

In order to protect the dignity of employees, equal employment opportunity, and a peaceful workplace, sexual harassment prevention in the workplace is clearly needed. According to research on workplace harassment in Asian countries conducted by Zhongze’s Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Team (职场性骚扰课题组), Japan initiated a law in 1986 to ensure gender equality in the workplace. This law was revised in 1999 and again in 2007. The Philippines stepped up to plate in 1995 with their first law against sexual harassment, and Taiwan came out with a similar law in 2005. Zhongze hopes that research on these related laws in other countries will lead to similar legislation in China.

Overseas, several major companies have already established employer responsibility as their policy and institutionalized its role in their corporate culture. One example is General Electric (GE), which lists sexual harassment prevention as one of their “Fourteen Integrity Policies”. Their zero-tolerance approach has led to the rule becoming a deeply internalized aspect of its policy. GE’s policies against sexual harassment are clear and detailed, with well-developed response mechanisms and reporting channels. The legal and human resources departments have also teamed up to launch training on the policy which covers all employees, clearly drawing the line for different responsibilities among the leadership and staff. The company training presents employees with a variety of hypothetical scenarios to assess. The clearly-defined guidelines for action and policy implementation, along with the realism of the training scenarios, has made GE a leader in the corporate fight against workplace harassment. In addition, GE still encourages individuals to file complaints whenever appropriate.

According to GE Healthcare’s chief legal advisor Zhu Xianglian (朱湘莲), the law is the bare minimum, and corporations should work to go above and beyond these requirements in improving the workplace environment. In taking a stand against workplace sexual harassment, GE has reaped tangible benefits; their efforts in the prevention of sexual harassment has helped the corporation boost its reputation while also maintaining its efficiency.

Since 2006, Zhongze has been holding corporate seminars, where they always invite GE to share their experiences, providing local corporations with a model to emulate. To date, six local companies have adopted similar strategies to GE, and have benefited greatly as a result.

Zeroing in on Corporate Advocacy

On the international stage, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan started a global initiative that urged corporations to adopt anti-sexual harassment policies, and spurred advocacy for corporate social responsibility. By fulfilling international conventions and legal obligations, corporations are respecting the human rights of employees, contributing to the public welfare, and encouraging sustainable development. Annan’s law has already become a method for controlling risk and loss, which is a fountainhead for corporate cohesion.

Zhongze’s research shows that in recent years various countries and regions have formulated specialized laws against sexual harassment in the workplace, with the rules being different in each corporation; additionally, governments, and NGOs have released a series of proposals to prevent sexual harassment. Sexual harassment in the workplace is one of the largest barriers to gender equity, and its eradication would be a large step towards that goal.

Zhongze recently launched its Corporate Mechanisms to Prevent Workplace Sexual Harassment Project, with the ultimate goal of pushing for anti-sexual harassment legislation. The event has continually garnered support from the Ford Foundation, the International Labor Organization, and the UN Gender Task Force.

Beijing Aesthetic (北京唯美度) is one company which worked hand-in-hand with Zhongze to face the problem of sexual harassment. Before writing any rules about sexual harassment in their corporate handbook, both organizations conducted research on relevant laws in place. In addition to the mechanism for filing complaints, courts mandate that HR managers are to be held responsible for handling cases, and various department heads report issues to the leadership. When training new employees, HR’s leadership stresses sexual harassment prevention as one of the most important aspects of training, juxtaposed against training for their normal work responsibilities. An international chain of cosmetic and beauty stores, Beijing Aesthetic has 3000 franchises in China. Sexual harassment prevention mechanisms, if effectively carried out, will act as a firewall protecting its female employees.

While Zhongze is currently pushing for more anti-sexual harassment legislation, they’re also pushing corporations to go beyond ad hoc policies. In a sector lacking strong laws, selected companies are taking the lead in preventing sexual harassment, furthering corporate social responsibility with great courage and insight.

Zhongze Women’s Watch’s Lin Lixia commented: “We think the program is very effective, and by promoting six companies to implement changes, they’re providing a foundation for new laws in a situation where the current laws are insufficient.”

Activating Mechanisms To Prevent Sexual Harassment

“Just because there are no complaints doesn’t mean that there is no sexual harassment.” The project manager of the China and Mongolia office of the International Labor Organization, Zhang Hongman, raised this point. In the April 2011 forum, one representative present mentioned that although new practices have been put into writing, many of them have yet to be put into practice. Upon hearing this, Professor Rong Weiyi, an expert on gender at China’s Public Security University, immediately brought up the example of women’s shelters: “In order to combat domestic violence, a lot of localities have opened up battered women’s shelters, but the shelters are empty. Very few women actually use them.” Rong Weiyi stresses the importance of the complaint system, as well as maintaining a system for follow up and evaluation. Since these rules for filing a complaint haven’t been in place very long, the jury is still out on their effectiveness. Because of this, Lin Lixia and Zhongze have emphasized they plan to monitor these pilot companies and follow up on their progress.

In the future, Zhongze hopes to work with more major corporations around the world, as well as with trade associations, enterprise federations, and employer federations, in order to expand their influence. In addition, Zhongze will closely monitor sexual harassment prevention training. “This is perhaps the most important aspect of preventing sexual harassment,” Lin Lixia said.

As an NGO that advocates on behalf of gender equality and the protection of women’s rights, Zhongze is beginning to see results after years of work. Guo Jianmei, director of Zhongze, stated that aside from needing to come up with strategies, the fight against workplace sexual harassment depends on how much space society is willing to give to NGOs. Despite much high-sounding speech, the value of NGOs has been marginalized, and Zhongze itself is facing the challenge of finding space and resources, while trying to come up with effective strategies to fight inequality.

  1. Editor’s Note: Zhongze is the new name of China’s oldest independent women’s legal aid NGO, formerly known as Beijing University Women’s Legal Aid Center. Founded by Guo Jianmei in 1996, the Center was instructed by Beijing University to discontinue its long-standing affiliation with the university’s law school. As a result, the Center had to register under a new name. It is now registered both as Zhongze, and as Qian Qian Law Firm. Zhongze also houses the Women’s Watch China project. 


付涛 中国发展简报2011夏季刊 <b>编者按</b>

2011年4月27日,中国首批在NGO支持和推动下建立职场性骚扰防治机制的6家本土企业,在众泽妇女法律咨询服务中心举办的项目研讨会上,与来自学界、NGO 界、国际组织和媒体界的代表分享建立性骚扰防治机制的体会。在法律未明确规定雇主责任的情况下,这些企业超越法律,率先建立机制,成为具有先进理念和开创精神的企业社会责任践行者。


1996 年在全世界30多个国家进行的国际犯罪受害调查(ICVS)显示,工作场所发生率最高的伤害事件,是对女性的性骚扰。近8%的强奸案和10%左右的强奸未遂及性侵犯案发生在工作场所。作为一种主要针对女性的暴力行为和性别歧视,工作场所中的性骚扰在中国也成为愈益凸显的社会问题。

根据众泽妇女法律咨询服务中心(原北大妇女法律援助中心,以下简称“众泽”)2009年在北京、广州、江苏、河北等地9家企业所做的2000个样本调查,发现23.9%的被调查者报告自己曾目睹或听说本单位其它员工遭受过性骚扰,19.8%的被调查者承认自己遭受过性骚扰,5.3%的被调查者承认曾对他人 实施过性骚扰。








事实上,为保障员工的人格尊严权、平等就业权和工作环境权,对雇主防治职场性骚扰的责任予以明确已是国际通例。根据“众泽”妇女观察“职场性骚扰课题组”的研究,以亚洲地区为例,日本于1986年制定,并于1999年、2007两次修订关于确保雇用领域男女具有平等机会及待遇等的法律;菲律宾出台1995年反性骚扰法,台湾地区2005年颁布性骚扰防治法,均规定了雇主责任,而其它一些国家,如加拿大、美国则通过判例法确立雇主责任。众泽妇女观察希望透过 国际相关法律、案例的研究和倡导,为本土立法提供镜鉴。




<b> </b> <b>针对企业倡导</b>

在国际层面,联合国前任秘书长安南发起的全球契约行动,既为渴望参与全球竞争的本土企业建立性骚扰防治机制提供了示范压力,也是一种企业社会责任(CSR) 的创新引力。履行国际公约和法律义务,在人权、劳工、公益和可持续发展等方面履行责任,已成为先进企业控制风险损失,建构企业文化和凝聚力的源头。



以“北京唯美度”为例,携手众泽勇于直面性骚扰问题,为公司带来了新的变化。在将反性骚扰写入集团总章之前,双方就法律逐条进行研究。在投诉机制上,由人事经理担任受理中心主任,各部门总监为相应责任人,将投诉机制落实到领导层。对新员工入职培训,人事部门领衔的安全课的重要一环就是性骚扰防范,与业务部门传授的技术课并列。作为国际连锁美容企业,“北京唯美度”在中国拥有3000家加盟店,女性员工比例高达87%,反性骚扰机制如果落实到位,将为众多女性 员工架起一道安全防火墙。


“我们认为(项目)很有成效,推动6家企业建立了内部机制,它们在没有明确的法律规定的情况下超越了法律,建立了有效的模式,为立法提供了实践基础。” 众泽妇女观察秘书长林丽霞表示。

<b> </b> <b>激活反性骚扰机制</b>

“没有投诉,并不意味着不存在骚扰。” 国际劳工组织中国和蒙古局项目经理张红漫提出这个疑问。研讨会上,当首度被问及反骚扰机制建立后的实施效果,在场的企业代表一开始未能提供一起投诉案例,使代表们感觉相关机制在试点企业中似乎还未能被激活。(后来华北制药的代表补充介绍了一个案例,算是填补了空白。)这不由使中国人民公安大学社会性别专家荣维毅教授联想起妇女庇护所的闲置情况:“很多省市为落实反家暴挂牌成立妇女庇护所,但绝大多数却面临无人入住或者入住很少的尴尬局面。”荣维毅特别强调了投诉机制建立之后如何激活,以及如何保障系统运转和后续跟踪调查和评估的问题。由于这些企业建立机制的时间较短,实施效果还有待检验。林丽霞对此回应,众泽将加强对试点企业的后续跟踪和监测。



Translated by Eric Couillard

Reviewed by Adam Hirschberg

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