decorated french flagWritten by Thushari Perera (First published by the Migrants Rights Network on 25th October 2016)

A new study titled “Accès à l’emploi et discriminations liées aux origines” by the equality body Défenseur des Droits reveals how Black and Minority Ethnic people in France struggle to get fair treatment in the job market. The review below asks whether French employers need to introduce “ethnic monitoring”?

A recent study on access to employment by Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) people in France by the French statutory equality body Défenseur des Droits found that far from being rare cases, 60 % of survey respondents had faced job market discrimination “often” or “very often” in the last 5 years.

The online survey found that a third of respondents had faced multiple discrimination because of their name, skin colour or religion. People with an Arab heritage tend to say they experience discrimination because of their religion, while Black people tend to say they are discriminated because of their skin colour.

Fewer than 1 in 10 victims of discrimination seek legal help or advice even though workplace racial discrimination has devastating consequences on their personal, social and professional lives. Although 80 % of respondents are actually French – some third generation – many end up in dead-end jobs for which they are overqualified, want to go abroad or become depressed as a result of unemployment. It is clear from the study that the French system fails BME groups and stronger social policies need to be implemented against racial discrimination.

Always a migrant?

Défenseur des Droits says that it is an independent body but its director is appointed by the French President. So this study is a milestone for France because it gets ‘under the skin’ of the crude discrimination faced by ethnic minorities in the wake of recent terrorist attacks there.

It spotlights the ambient Islamophobia in France by exposing how candidates with better qualifications and references are denied jobs, or compared to terrorists or even asked to send a CV over the phone for a vacant post, only to be told the next day the job is already taken.

One woman said: “After looking for a job for 16 months, I got a job a month after I changed my name.” Another respondent said: “People are talking about integration, even though we are an integral part of French society, France is the only country we have known.”

Ethnic monitoring?

But the study has a fatal flaw. It somehow “blames” ethnic minorities for not seeking legal help or advice when the French state itself does not sufficiently promote the use of anti-discrimination tools. It is illegal to keep “ethnic statistics” in France, yet adopting the “Diversity Charter” introduced in France in 2004 could at least help measure diversity at company-level, on a voluntary and anonymous basis.

If the study had taken a stronger anti-racist stance more relevant to France’s needs, it might have prompted a wider public discussion on equal job opportunities in France.

But is the UK any better at tackling this problem? According to the Runnymede Trust, “the unemployment rate for the BME population at 10.2 % is more than double that of the white population at 4.9 %”. Why does Britain, which has race relations legislation since 1965 and is known as an “ethnic monitoring” champion still face similar challenges to France? Clearly both nations need to up their game.