Posted on October 26, 2004

French Companies Vow To Boost Ethnic Minorities

AFP, Oct. 24

PARIS — More than 30 major French companies, among them airplane-maker Airbus, insurance giant Axa and supermarket chain Casino, have signed a pledge to fight discrimination on racial grounds when hiring workers and to boost ethnic minorities.

A total of 35 businesses have signed up to a “charter of diversity”, in line with the idea of “positive discrimination” launched by Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy who, amid considerable controversy, appointed a Muslim to a senior local government post when he was at the interior ministry.

“I am for positive discrimination,” Henri Lachmann, head of the Schneider Electronics group and a charter signatory said.

“We must openly encourage the hiring of people who are different and in particular those from visible minorities such as Arabs or Blacks.”

France has an estimated five to seven million foreign inhabitants, chiefly of north African origin.

A recent unpublished academic study has revealed the extent of the problems minorities face.

Researchers sent out identical job applications with CVs (resumes) attached, one with a “standard” male or female French name, the other with a north African name.

The “standard” candidates were offered 144 interviews (75 male, 69 female).

The north African-named candidates were offered 14.

Candidates with “standard” names but living in parts of the Paris region with high numbers of north African inhabitants were offered only 45 interviews.

Some companies, such as vehicle manufacturers Peugeot-Citroen, have already taken steps actively to seek out non-French qualified staff and managers and senior technical staff from places with large first or second generation immigrant populations and to train executives how to manage them.

“Neither ‘rigid quotas’ nor simple ‘good will’, bound to fail,” say the charter’s organisers, but a point of departure.

The aim is to “mobilise, to involve businesses,” according to Laurence Mehaignerie, who co-authored with Yazid Sabeg, the only business leader of Algerian immigrant origin, a report on “those left behind in the equality of opportunity.”

The initiative has government support with the employment ministry suggesting diversity of recruitment might have to be imposed if voluntary measures did not show progress within two years.

But it does not enjoy public backing. A recent survey found huge opposition to positive discrimination on ethnic or religious grounds.

Only nine percent of the population at large were in favour, only five percent of human resources directors and only 12 percent of people living in areas with high immigrant populations.

European Union countries do not practise formal positive discrimination, though in some such as the Netherlands, Sweden and Britain businesses are or have been encouraged to take on workers of immigrant origin or from foreign countries.