Ban gagging orders for sexual harassment victims, UK lawmakers demand

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Ban gagging orders for sexual harassment victims, UK lawmakers demand

Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Finance firms in Britain should be banned from misusing non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to silence victims of sexual harassment and abuse, lawmakers said today, calling for an end to an era of impunity for predators and bullies. — AFP pic

LONDON, March 8 — Finance firms in Britain should be banned from misusing non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to silence victims of sexual harassment and abuse, lawmakers said today, calling for an end to an era of impunity for predators and bullies.

In a report on sexism in the City of London, published on International Women’s Day, the cross-party Treasury Committee called for new legislation to bar “gagging orders” that shield serial perpetrators, cover-up discrimination, prompt women to resign and embed corrosive workplace cultures.

“It is shocking to hear how prevalent sexual harassment and bullying, up to and including serious sexual assault and rape, still are in financial services, and how poorly firms handle allegations of such behaviours,” said the committee, led by lawmaker Harriett Baldwin.

The committee said it launched its inquiry in response to sexual assault and misconduct allegations by women in finance last year. Lawmakers quizzed executives, regulators and invited evidence from advocacy groups and victims.

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Progress in tackling sexism and misogyny in financial markets had moved at “snail’s pace” since a similar investigation in 2018, Baldwin said, adding that corporate inaction was both immoral and bad for business.

Abuse worst in finance sector

Britain last year banned the use of NDAs to silence complaints about sexual misconduct, bullying and harassment in higher education. But such misconduct is most prevalent in financial services, insurer Aviva’s CEO Amanda Blanc has said.

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Previous British prime ministers have sought to introduce measures to tackle the misuse of NDAs, which are legitimately used to protect commercially sensitive information. Concrete progress, however, has stalled.

The committee wants the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to gather data about firms’ use of NDAs in non-financial misconduct cases, better publicise its whistleblowing hotline and reassure victims that NDAs cannot prevent them from reporting misconduct to authorities.

In testimony published on Friday, not-for-profit campaign group Can’t Buy My Silence (CBMS) said NDAs perpetuate sexism and discrimination, force victims to lie to family and future employers and prevent bosses from rooting out poor culture.

The group said 18 US states had passed legislation outlawing NDAs for aspects of workplace misconduct, with Canadian provinces and Ireland following suit.

The committee also proposes banning prospective employers from asking for salary history, wants salary bands added to job adverts and for the size of companies required to report gender pay gaps to be lowered to 50 employees from 250, to catch small firms with the worst culture and diversity records.

Some of the highest reported mean hourly pay gaps within British banking for 2022-23 were at HSBC, at 43.2 per cent, and Barclays at 42.9 per cent, the report said. Mean gender bonus gaps for that year stood at 54.4 per cent for HSBC and 67.5 per cent for Barclays.

The government has eight weeks to respond. — Reuters

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