University launches charter mark to boost employers' pledge to become HIV friendly

The charter mark was launched at an event held at the university's London campus.
The charter mark was launched at an event held at the university's London campus.

The work of a Sunderland University lecturer has sparked a new charter mark to break down the barriers surrounding HIV.

Organisations and employers can volunteer to sign up to the Positive Allies Charter Mark to show they are ‘HIV friendly’ towards their staff and volunteers.

It is the first of its kind in the UK.

Its key aim is to demonstrate organisations’ commitment to ensuring people living with HIV, as either staff or volunteers, are safe and that key staff undertake training, review policies and consider practices and resources, which demonstrate equality and openness about HIV.

The concept behind Positive Allies was the result of a research project undertaken by Drew Dalton in 2015 called ‘Silent Scream?’, which highlighted what life is like in the UK for people living with HIV and the barriers they faced.

It found that those with HIV were still facing stigma within their working environments despite the introduction of the workplace Equality Act (2010).

Drew Dalton, lecturer in social sciences at the University of Sunderland.

Drew Dalton, lecturer in social sciences at the University of Sunderland.

Drew, a lecturer in social sciences at the University of Sunderland, says: “Whilst the Equalities Act added further protections to those living with HIV, many employers are unaware that HIV is included within this legislation.

"Our Charter Mark is an opportunity for employers, big or small, or whether they have paid staff or volunteers, to sign up to Positive Allies.

“By everyone signing up to it, we can ensure that workplaces become better places for people living with HIV and to tackle some of the stigma that people continue to face today.

"Positive Allies a very straight forward undertaking for any company to do, but it’s another step towards making life better for those with HIV.”

The scheme is open to employers and organisations.

The scheme is open to employers and organisations.

The Charter Mark provides a free online training course for key staff and volunteers and an HIV Staff/volunteer policy for organisations to tailor around their current policies.

Drew said: “There are two levels to the adopting the charter, and attaining either of these levels allows employers to advertise to others that they are making a conscious effort to improve the ethos of their organisation, and more importantly to reduce stigma.”

Positive Allies is maintained by the university and an adjudicating panel which awards the Charter Mark is made up of a range of industry experts and of people living with HIV.

Once gained, organisations can use the Positive Allies logo on their websites, letterheads and social media channels.

Vice Chancellor Shirley Atkinson has welcomed the innovative project.

She said: “We fully support Drew’s excellent work on Positive Allies, which reflects the importance our University places on creating a diverse and inclusive culture, where all members of our University community are valued for their contribution and individuality.

“We believe this Charter Mark will help meet the needs and expectations of the modern working environment and importantly remove barriers of discrimination, bullying, harassment or victimisation for people living with HIV within organisations.”

Justine Gillespie, human resources manager at the University of Sunderland, said: “We were delighted to support Drew with his project and used it as an opportunity to become an HIV friendly employer.

"With his advice we developed our HIV/AIDS staff policy, which we launched last year, and also invited Drew to carry out a number of training sessions for staff and students.

"The feedback we have received has been overwhelmingly positive and so would encourage any employer to sign up to the principles of the Charter Mark.”

The Positive Allies Charter Mark was officially launched at Canary Wharf, at the University of Sunderland's London campus.

The keynote speech was given by Roland Chesters – a recognised disability and inclusion expert; coach, consultant, workshop leader and motivational speaker.

Roland is about publish a book ‘Ripples from the Edge of Life’ in April which documents the stories of 14 people with HIV and AIDS and the impact on their lives.

More about the mark can be found via https://www.sunderland.ac.uk/positiveallies on Twitter through @PositiveAllies and by emailing positiveallies@sunderland.ac.uk