Akvo non-discrimination and sexual harassment policy

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Updated: 05 May 2018

Policy statement

Akvo is committed to providing a safe environment for all of its workforce members, free from discrimination and harassment on any grounds. Akvo operates a zero-tolerance policy toward any form of discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace, treats all incidents seriously, and promptly investigates all allegations of discrimination and sexual harassment. Any person found to have sexually harassed or discriminated against another will face disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal from employment.

All complaints of discrimination and sexual harassment will be taken seriously and treated with respect and in confidence. No one will be victimised for making such a complaint.


This policy applies to all Akvo workforce members, including but not limited to full-time employees, part-time employees, contractors, trainees, volunteers and temporary workers. All workforce members are made aware of the existence of this non-discrimination and sexual harassment policy.


Discrimination is treating, or proposing to treat, someone unfavourably because of a personal characteristic protected by international human rights, such as sex, age, race or disability.

Non-discrimination statement

The Akvo Foundation is committed to promoting equality of opportunity for all workforce members and job applicants. We aim to create a working environment in which all individuals are able to best make use of their skills, free from discrimination or harassment, and in which decisions are based on merit.

We do not discriminate against workforce members on the basis of age, disability, political views, civil status, pregnancy or maternity, race, colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin, religion or belief, gender, gender reassignment or sexual orientation.

The principles of non-discrimination and equality of opportunity also apply to the way in which workforce members treat visitors, clients, customers, suppliers and former workforce members.

Akvo seeks to support organisations that are in line with our non-discrimination policy. Akvo may terminate its provision of services to organisations that are found to unlawfully discriminate through the use of those services and/or through their hiring practices.

All workforce members have a duty to act in accordance with this policy, to treat colleagues with dignity at all times, and not to discriminate against or harass other workforce members.

Discrimination can occur

, when a person or group is treated less favourably than another person or group in a similar situation because of a personal characteristic protected by law (see list below).

Indirectly, when an unreasonable requirement, condition or practice is imposed that has, or is likely to have, the effect of disadvantaging people with a personal characteristic.

Protected personal characteristics include:

  • A disability, disease or injury, including work-related injury
  • Parental status or status as a carer, for example, because they are responsible for
  • caring for children or other family members
  • Race, descent, national origin, or ethnic background
  • Age, whether young or old
  • Gender, intersex status, or gender identity, including transsexual or transgender.
  • Religion
  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding
  • Sexual orientation, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer and heterosexual
  • Marital status, whether married, divorced, unmarried or in a de facto relationship or same sex relationship
  • Political opinion
  • Social origin
  • Medical record

If someone is being bullied because of a personal characteristic, it is a form of discrimination. Bullying can take many forms, including jokes, teasing, nicknames, emails, pictures, text messages, social isolation or ignoring people, or unfair work practices including positive discrimination (favouritism).

Sexual harassment

All sexual harassment is prohibited whether it takes place within Akvo’s premises or outside, including at social events, business trips, training sessions or conferences sponsored by Akvo.

Anyone who sexually harasses another, including full-time employees, part-time employees, contractors, trainees, volunteers, and temporary workers, will be reprimanded in accordance with this internal policy.

Sexual harassment is the unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature which makes a person feel offended, humiliated and/or intimidated. It includes situations where a person is asked to engage in sexual activity as a condition of that person’s employment, as well as situations which create an environment which is hostile, intimidating or humiliating for the recipient.

Anyone can be a victim of sexual harassment, regardless of the sex, gender or sexual orientation of any of the persons involved. What matters is that the sexual conduct is unwanted and unwelcome by the person against whom the conduct is directed.

Akvo recognises that sexual harassment is a manifestation of power relationships and often occurs within unequal relationships in the workplace, for example between manager or supervisor and workforce member.

Sexual harassment can involve one or more incidents, and actions constituting harassment may be physical, verbal and non-verbal. Examples of conduct or behaviour which constitute sexual harassment include, but are not limited to:

Physical conduct
  • Unwelcome physical contact including patting, pinching, stroking, kissing, hugging, fondling, or inappropriate touching
  • Physical violence, including sexual assault
  • The use of job-related threats or rewards to solicit sexual favours
Verbal conduct
  • Comments on a worker’s appearance, age, private life, etc 
  • Sexual comments, stories and jokes
  • Sexual advances
  • Repeated and unwanted social invitations for dates or physical intimacy
  • Insults based on the gender or sex of the worker
  • Condescending or paternalistic remarks
  • Sending sexually suggestive or explicit messages (by phone or by email) 
Non-verbal conduct
  • Display of sexually explicit or suggestive material
  • Sexually-suggestive gestures
  • Whistling
  • Leering 

Complaints procedures

Anyone who is subject to discrimination or sexual harassment should, if possible, inform the alleged harasser that the conduct is unwanted and unwelcome. Akvo recognises that discrimination and sexual harassment may occur in unequal relationships (i.e. between a supervisor and his/her workforce member) and that it may not be possible for the victim to inform the alleged harasser.

Anyone who is subject to discrimination or sexual harassment has the right to directly approach one of the confidential counsellors within Akvo. The confidential counsellors are responsible for receiving complaints of discrimination and sexual harassment.

A victim can also approach his/her line manager to discuss the matter. The line manager can either provide support directly or if that is not possible or desirable, the line manager can contact the confidential counsellor with the consent of the victim. In any case, the line manager will report the matter to the confidential counsellor with the consent of the victim.

When the confidential counsellor a receives a complaint, he/she will:

  • Immediately record the dates, times and facts of the incident(s)
  • Ascertain the views of the victim as to what outcome he/she wants
  • Ensure that the victim understands Akvo’s procedures for dealing with the complaint
  • Discuss and agree on the next steps: either an informal or a formal complaint, on the understanding that choosing to resolve the matter informally does not preclude the victim from pursuing a formal complaint if he/she is not satisfied with the outcome
  • Keep a confidential record of all discussions
  • Respect the choice of the victim
  • Ensure that the victim knows that they can lodge the complaint outside of Akvo through the relevant country/legal framework
  • Throughout the complaints procedure, a victim is entitled to support from an external counsellor.
Informal complaints procedure
If the victim wishes to deal with the matter informally, the confidential counsellor will:
  • Provide an opportunity to the alleged harasser to respond to the complaint
  • Ensure that the alleged harasser understands the complaints procedure
  • Facilitate discussion between both parties to achieve an informal resolution which is acceptable to the complainant, or refer the matter to a designated mediator within the company to resolve the matter
  • Ensure that a confidential record is kept of what happens
  • Follow up after the outcome of the complaints procedure
  • Ensure that the above is done speedily and within 30 days of the complaint being made

Formal complaints procedure

If the victim wants to make a formal complaint or if the informal complaint procedure has not led to a satisfactory outcome for the victim, the formal complaint procedure should be used to resolve the matter.

The confidential counsellor will refer the matter to one of Akvo’s directors to instigate a formal investigation. This director can deal with the matter him/herself or refer the matter to an internal or external investigator.

In case one of Akvo’s directors in involved in the complaint, the confidential counsellor can refer the matter to an external investigator directly.

External complaints procedure

A person who has been subject to discrimination or sexual harassment can also make a complaint outside of Akvo. They can do so through legal frameworks, depending on the country. Think of police, employment tribunal, ombudsperson, etc.

Implementation of the policy

Sanctions and disciplinary measures

Anyone who has been found to have discriminated or sexually harassed another person under the terms of this policy is liable to any of the following sanctions:

  • Verbal or written warning
  • Adverse performance evaluation
  • Reduction in wages
  • Transfer
  • Demotion
  • Suspension
  • Dismissal

The nature of the sanctions will depend on the gravity and extent of the harassment. Suitable deterrent sanctions will be applied. Certain serious cases, including physical violence, will result in the immediate dismissal of the harasser.


In the event of a workforce member working for Akvo breaching the policies and legal support is required, the costs accruing to this legal support will initially be borne by Akvo. However, when it is proven that the workforce member has intentionally and knowingly breached the rules and regulations through his/her own personal actions, the workforce member will have to bear the financial consequences. Costs made will be invoiced to the workforce member concerned.


Akvo will ensure that this policy is widely disseminated to all relevant persons. All new workforce members must be informed of the content of this policy as part of their induction into the company.

Akvo recognises the importance of monitoring this discrimination and sexual harassment policy.

Supervisors, managers and those responsible for dealing with discrimination and sexual harassment cases will report on compliance with this policy, including the number of incidents, how they were dealt with, and any recommendations made. This will be done on a yearly basis. As a result of this report, the company will evaluate the effectiveness of this policy and make any changes needed.

Revision history

16 July 2012: Created.
05 May 2018: Revised.