ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Reflections on the Private Sector

Sexual Harassment of Women

The private sector in India has by and large not been very receptive to women's complaints about sexual harassment at the workplace. This article highlights the importance of company policies on sexual harassment, the role of their human resource departments, and says that the private sector has to clearly articulate and uphold its code of conduct to prevent and address sexual harassment at the workplace. The effectiveness of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 remains to be seen.

Even while the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill 2013 was being discussed (before it was enacted on 22 April 2013), the national press was reporting defiance of the Supreme Court’s (SC) Vishaka guidelines by multinational companies.1 A glaring instance involved the multinational audit firm KPMG, which operates in 156 countries, including India. In 2006, a chartered accountant working in a senior position complained against a partner, but the firm failed to constitute a complaints committee as mandated by the Vishaka guidelines of 1997. Instead, her services were terminated, severely hampering her prospects for future career growth (Deshpande 2013a). She faced a disparaging campaign online after her name was revealed in 2007 in reports on the case. Her ordeal continues as she goes on with her battle. She faces problems in finding new employment, and has been branded a legal terrorist (Menon 2013).

For 15 years, government agencies such as the National Commission for Women (NCW) and women’s groups consistently pressed for a law on sexual harassment. If one looked at the implementation of the SC-directed Vishaka guidelines (1997) it was observed that their implementation in the private sector remained uneven. A 2010 survey brought out that 88% of the women working in information technology (IT) and business process outsourcing (BPO)/knowledge process outsourcing (KPO) companies had suffered some form of workplace sexual harassment (Sharma 2010). Media reports and studies show that many private sector organisations do not have any special policy on sexual harassment. Even where policies exist, strict and compulsory adherence to them is rare. The dismal situation needs urgent attention. This article attempts an overview of sexual harassment in the private sector in India and puts together suggestions to overcome them. It analyses the issue on the basis of the implementation of the SC’s guidelines, the importance of workplace policies on sexual harassment, and the role of human resource (HR) departments.

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