Across the world, employers are increasingly looking for the best sources of talent and reliable employees. In an era of globalization, they also want to diversify their workforce and comply with international human rights standards and local labor laws. People with disabilities comprise an estimated 15 percent of the world’s population and they represent a talent pool and customer base that deserves attention. As a result of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, many national laws are being changed or updated to protect their workplace rights related to non-discrimination, reasonable accommodation and trade union participation.
Multinational companies and employers of all kinds are taking notice of people with disabilities. They seek to attract them as employees and retain qualified workers who have disabilities. In doing so, they are experiencing new challenges on how to comply with new laws, make their workplaces accessible, raise disability awareness among staff, provide reasonable accommodation, and in general build a disability-inclusive environment.
The ILO Global Business and Disability Network is an employer-led, member-based initiative that drives strategic business awareness of the positive relationship between the inclusion of people with disabilities and business success. Since 2010, the Network has brought together more than 40 multinational enterprises, almost 20 employers’ organizations and regional and national business networks, along with disabled persons’ organizations and other resource groups from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. A Steering Committee and Strategic Plan guide the work.
The Network has four main purposes and areas of focus:
- sharing knowledge and identifying good practices among companies and employers’ organizations
- developing joint products and services to facilitate the hiring and career development of disabled persons
- strengthening employers’ organizations and business networks, which have greater access to small and medium-sized companies at the national level and building their technical expertise on disability issues
- linking companies to ILO activities and partners at the national level.
In 2011-2012 the Network brokered technical assistance between members. Some examples include:
- Allianz was linked up with Dow Chemical to share knowledge on how to launch and operate an employee resource group on disability.
- Tata Consultancy Services and Wipro helped Microsoft identify support groups and services related to blindness and visual impairment in India for Microsoft employees, while the Disabled Persons International Asia Pacific (DPIAP) helped find accessible transportation and hotels in Japan.
- The US Business Leadership Network provided training and technical assistance to employers’ organizations in Latin America to help strengthen employer networks in several countries.
In addition, the Network offered direct guidance to members on making their workplaces more inclusive. For example:
- Novartis received assistance in developing its corporate disability diversity strategy for Switzerland.
- Casino Group and Dow Chemical were provided with information and guidance reports to better link with disabled persons’ organizations and disability NGOs in Latin America and Asia.
- L’Oréal and Accor received guidance in searching for national disability laws and country-specific definitions of disability.
As a direct result of capacity-building activities or linkage, the Network facilitated concrete results at the country level, such as:
- The Federation of Chilean Industry (SOFOFA) has embarked on a technical cooperation program aimed at enhancing business strategies and policies related to people with disabilities.
- Serasa Experian has launched an employers’ network on disability in Brazil.
- The PHD Chamber of Commerce in India is holding periodic job fairs for students with disabilities to provide a platform where employers can meet with potential employees.
- DPI-AP and Accor Hotels are increasing the labor force participation of people with disabilities in Bangkok.
- Standard Bank staff now provides mentoring to young women and men with disabilities as part of a youth employment project in Uganda.
Moreover, the Network aims to develop tools to upgrade its members’ knowledge of disability and keep them involved in Network activities. Some existing products include:
- Disability in the Workplace: Company Practices (2010), which describes the experience of 25 companies and their work on the issue of disability. This is available in English, Chinese, French and Spanish.
- Disability in the Workplace: Employers’ Organizations and Business Networks (2011), which presents 12 case studies of how business organizations engage with members to address disability. This is available in English, Chinese, French and Spanish.
- Quarterly newsletters and an annual report keep members up to date on activities of the Network, its members, disability news in general and most importantly, the newsletter provides examples of disability inclusion, Network impact, and case studies.
- The Network’s website is an information and communication platform for members. This is also available in English, Chinese, French and Spanish.
The Network offers its business members opportunities to engage with a wide range of stakeholders, including like-minded companies, the ILO, UN agencies, employers’ and workers’ organizations, governments, disabled people’s organizations, universities and the civil society. It also helps members identify their needs for information, guidance, coaching and support so they can link or partner with the type of organization that best suits those needs.
The Network is global and can serve companies that operate in many countries, where legal, economic and human resource environments may vary. It provides members with opportunities to crowd source with diverse groups and to jointly identify innovative solutions on disability management, workplace accessibility and raising awareness.
As a result of participation in the Network, companies can benefit from the business case for hiring and retaining people with disabilities: they are talented and dependable employees, who often have higher job retention, safety and attendance rates than the overall population. Hiring disabled people often results in boosted workforce morale, favorable consumer perceptions and increased market share.
For more information, please contact Kassiyet Tulegenova, International Labour Organization.