MASERU, Lesotho (ILO Online) - Springfield Footwear Company is based just outside Maseru, the capital of Lesotho, and makes sports shoes for several leading international brands. This small landlocked country surrounded by South Africa has a 30 per cent prevalence rate of HIV and the company takes the issue very seriously.
With a strong workplace policy in place, Springfield's management and staff have created an enabling environment where workers do not feel afraid to discuss and act on HIV/AIDS. "This policy is not just a piece of paper, a programme is actually being implemented here," says one worker.
The Occupational Health Services Officer is the focal point for the HIV/AIDS prevention programme in the company and people are given time off to visit local health clinics where antiretroviral treatment is free.
The ILO's Strategic HIV/AIDS Responses by Enterprises (SHARE) programme has conducted training here. "After being trained I had a different attitude towards people with HIV", says one participant.
The Managing Director, Mr. John Lyon, is a keen advocate of the project. "It doesn't take a lot of money to run a programme like this - you need to be committed and we are committed", he says. The company has noticed changes including a decline in absenteeism, more people talking openly about HIV and an increased uptake of condoms supplied at work.
Making it happen in the workplace and beyond
The ILO's SHARE programme focuses on enterprise-level action with the involvement of employers, workers and often the wider community.
"SHARE has two distinct yet complementary strategies. It works at the national level with governments, employers' and workers' organizations to ensure that the country's legal and policy framework is conducive to workplace prevention of HIV/AIDS and the protection of worker's rights. At the same time SHARE works directly with management, labour and other partners to formulate policy and launch effective programmes in the workplace", explains SHARE manager Behrouz Shahandeh.
In this way SHARE aims to reduce employment-related discrimination against persons living with HIV/AIDS; reduce risk behaviours of workers; facilitate access to treatment, care and support; and maintain employment of workers living with HIV/AIDS in the targeted enterprises.
The majority of HIV-positive workers are between 15 and 49 years of age and are in the most productive segment of the labour force. While the epidemic is at a significant level in all continents, it has reached a catastrophic dimension in sub-Saharan Africa. The economic impact is greatest when enterprises lose workers with skills, experience and institutional memory who are hard to replace.
Following earlier initiatives in Africa, the ILO moved to prioritize the issue in 2000, passing a landmark resolution at its millennium International Labour Conference (ILC) that paved the way for the creation of a global programme on HIV/AIDS and the world of work (ILO/AIDS). Soon after this, the Organization adopted its pioneering Code of Practice and became the eighth co-sponsor of UNAIDS that now comprises ten UN agencies.
Having created an enabling environment, work began in earnest to roll out an ambitious campaign promoting policy and programmes that address HIV/AIDS in the workplace. With critical financial and political support from the United States Department of Labor (USDOL), the International HIV/AIDS Workplace Education Programme was conceived and began modestly in India in 2000.
From an initial grant of US$ 400,000, the pilot project launched in selected Indian states has now expanded to become an inter-regional initiative with a cumulative allocation of US$ 24.5 million, covering 23 countries and reaching about 300,000 workers in some 300 enterprises worldwide. To date, about 250 national counterparts are involved in guiding the implementation of project work.
"At the present level of funding, the programme which operates across sectors from banking to construction, to informal street vendors, expects to directly assist a further 120,000 workers as new country projects come on stream", says Sophia Kisting, director of the ILO/AIDS programme.
The India experience confirms the critical contributions made by collaborating institutions representing people living with HIV/AIDS. "Involving persons living with HIV/AIDS is very important. Many top executives and other decision-makers have never met them before. When they notice that they are fit to do their jobs and co-workers are not at risk, the decision-makers cooperate with our goals", says India's National Programme Coordinator Syed Mohamed Afsar.
According to Manoj Pardesi, living with HIV/AIDS himself and carrying out advocacy work with the India SHARE Project, the involvement of people living with HIV/AIDS in the project is making a difference. "Enterprises and trade unions are buying the idea of keeping people living with HIV/AIDS in employment and creating a non-discriminatory environment for us", he says.
Note 1 - Saving Lives, Protecting Jobs, International HIV/AIDS Workplace Education Programme SHARE: Strategic HIV/AIDS Responses by Enterprises, interim report, International Labour Office, Geneva 2006. For an electronic copy of this report, go to http://www.ilo.org/public/english/protection/trav/aids/publ/savingbook.pdf