Persons with disabilities’ human rights, including their right to decent work, are protected in a wide range of international human rights instruments.
Disability results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis. There is a need to create an enabling environment, including by removing those barriers, so that persons with disabilities can enjoy real equality in society, including in the field of employment.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated in 2015 that there were one billion persons with disabilities globally, with 80% of them living in “development countries”. Out of that figure, approximately 800 million were of working age as of 2016. Persons with disabilities make up the world’s largest and most disadvantaged minority.+ Read more
The rights of Persons with Disabilities are recognised in a wide range of international human rights instruments including, amongst many others:
- the UN Charter (1945),
- the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948),
- the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966),
- the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966),
- the ILO 159 Convention on Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (Disabled Persons) (1983),
- the UN Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (1993),
- the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (1998),
- the ILO Code of Practice for Managing Disability in the Workplace (2002),
- the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006), and
- the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006).
The prevention and elimination of discrimination, on grounds which include disability, is most present in all recent international and regional human rights instruments. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states that:
“persons with disabilities have the right to work on an equal basis with others. This includes the right to the opportunity to gain a living by work freely chosen or accepted in a labour market and work environment that is open, inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities”.
“States should actively support the integration of persons with disabilities into open employment. This active support could occur through a variety of measures, such as vocational training, incentive-oriented quota schemes, reserved or designated employment, loans or grants for small business, exclusive contracts or priority production rights, tax concessions, contract compliance or other technical or financial assistance to enterprises employing workers with disabilities. States should also encourage employers to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate persons with disabilities”
Employment is central to the ability of persons with disabilities to maintain a decent standard of living for themselves and for their families, and is an important factor influencing their opportunities to participate fully in society.
When given the right working environment, persons with disabilities could productively perform most jobs.
Obstacles to equal opportunities in the workplace or to obtain employment included barriers to education, lack of reasonable accommodation, inaccessibility of information and of the physical environment, including transportation, housing and workplaces, limitations related to legal capacity, as well as attitudinal barriers in society. The World Health Organisation reported in 2011 that women with disabilities commonly earned less than men with disabilities and the wage gaps between men and women with and without disabilities were as big as the difference in employment rates,. A 2012 ILO report stated that throughout the world, persons with disabilities were likely to be in jobs with poor promotional prospects and working conditions, especially in the informal economy, and few had access to skills development and other opportunities that would enable them to earn a decent living.
As highlighted in the UN Guiding Principle on Business and Human Rights, Commentary to Guiding Principle 12:
“enterprises should respect the human rights of individuals belonging to specific groups or populations that require particular attention, where they may have adverse human rights impacts on them…including the rights of persons with disabilities.”
International Disability Alliance stated that there was not only an ethical and human rights legal case, but also a business case for employing persons with disabilities, part of which was related to the need for business enterprises to have a diverse workforce, which largely reflects the diversity of consumers. It also has positive effects in rooting the business within the community. Likewise, the ILO also notes that business enterprises employing persons with disabilities will benefit from more diverse workforces, improved productivity, reduced turnover, safer workplaces and increased customer service and community brand loyalty. The UN Global Compact acknowledges that businesses are increasingly realising that fostering diversity that includes persons with disabilities among employees, suppliers, and customers can provide a competitive advantage.
Various measures have been taken at the international arena in order to guarantee the human rights of persons with disabilities. In 2014 the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights designed a Training Guide on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities while in 2002 the ILO developed a Code of Practice for Managing Disability in the Workplace to guide employers on how to adopt a positive strategy in managing disability related issues in the workplace. The European Union adopted in 2000 the EU Council Directive 78 General Framework for Equal Treatment in Employment and Occupation, that includes a provision related to the need to provide reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities in order to guarantee compliance with the principle of equal treatment.
States have adopted legislation to realise the rights of persons with disabilities to access employment, t through the adoption of anti-discrimination legislation with applicability to the workplace. This includes, for example the US Americans with Disabilities Act 1990 and Australia’s Disability Discrimination Act 1992 There have also been a number of positive measures to improve the number of persons with disabilities within the workforce, including quota systems and tax incentives. Peru’s General Law on Persons with Disabilities, adopted in 2012, stipulates that businesses with more than 50 employees must hire persons with disabilities in a percentage no less than 3% of the total amount of workers. Companies complying with the law get a reduction on their income tax that could accrue to up to 50 percent if more than 30 percent of their workforce is composed of persons with disabilities. The Danish Act on the Prohibition against Discrimination in the labour market, which implements EU Council Directive 2000/78, covers not only differential treatment due to disability, but includes a requirement on the employer to adjust the workplace to meet the needs of persons with disabilities. Also, the Ugandan Act on Employment entitles private companies who employ ten or more persons with disabilities as apprentices or regular employees to a deduction of 15% on all payable tax.
Various multi-stakeholder initiatives also address the rights of persons with disabilities. The ILO Global Business and Disability Network is a unique worldwide network of multinational companies, national employers’ organisations, business networks and disabled people’s organisations working in collaboration to promote disability inclusion in the workplace. The UN Global Compact has a Guide for Business on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to improve business’ understanding of the rights of people with disabilities. In addition, the Global Reporting Initiative produced a Guide on Disability in Sustainability Reporting in 2015.
Many companies across the world have policies, practices and initiatives in place that seek to respect and support the rights and inclusion of persons with disabilities as employees, customers, suppliers and community members. This can include both measures to implement human rights legal obligations or can be measures to go beyond minimum standards. Novartis has created Employee Resource Groups for persons with disabilities that provide them with opportunities to network, exchange views, create innovative business focused solutions and continue professional growth and development. L’ORÉAL’s Global Policy favours the professional insertion of persons with disabilities in the company and it focuses on five priorities: infrastructures, maintenance in employment, recruitment, subcontracting and partnerships. SAMSUNG operates, in collaboration with the Korean Research Institute for Vocational Education and Training affiliated with the Korea Employment Agency for the Disabled, customised training programs for persons with disabilities in the electrical and electronic fields. In addition to that, more and more companies include the employment of persons with disabilities in their sustainability or corporate social responsibility reporting. A 2014 ILO study of 40 Multinational Enterprises’ Sustainability reporting found that although disability tended to be poorly reflected in reporting, this did not always imply the absence of strategies or initiatives on disability. In fact, the study revealed that many business enterprises were active in addressing disability but did not report on the initiatives taken, and that this might have been the case due to the absence of indicators on disability following reporting standards at the time.