The man tasked with stamping out racism in the UK is supporting and advising a recruitment firm that has broken the Race Relations Act by refusing to take on white candidates.
Trevor Phillips, head of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), is on the advisory board of Rare Recruitment, a company that places graduates, but only if they are “visibly from a non-white background”.
The board also includes other high profile race relations campaigners such as Sandra Kerr, national director of Race for Opportunity, and Anne Watts, a member of the steering group for the proposed Commission for Equality and Human Rights.
After investigation by Personnel Today, the company pulled its website on Friday and now claims its services are open to everyone, although specialising in ethnic minority candidates.
But Phillips backed Rare Recruitment from the start, despite the Race Relations Act (1976) clearly stating that it is illegal to discriminate against someone due to the colour of their skin. This includes attempts to make up a shortfall in a particular ethnic group in the workplace through positive discrimination.Section 14 of the Act says it is unlawful for an employment agency to discriminate against a person “by refusing or deliberately omitting to provide any of its services”.
Warren Wayne, employment partner at law firm Bird and Bird, said having a “cut off” for the type of people a company takes on is positive discrimination. “It faces problems from candidates who see the service and say they want to participate but are blocked for being from the wrong background,” he said.
Raphael Mokades, managing director of Rare Recruitment, insisted that the company was only practising positive action, which is legal under the Act.
But Naomi Feinstein, partner at Lovells law firm, said that positive action only applied to the training of staff and refusing white applicants was “definitely positive discrimination”. “Positive action is quite tightly defined – it relates to the provision of training where there is no one of [a certain] racial group employed doing certain work and there only will be if employers offer that training,” she said.
A CRE spokeswoman said: “The commission is always mindful of the need for projects such as this to be in accordance with the law, and that is exactly why an advisory board with a range of expertise is necessary in order to ensure such work is taken forward appropriately.”
Are employers at risk from using the service?
Carl Gilleard, head of the Association of Graduate Recruiters, said that employers engaging Rare Recruitment do not face a threat of claims of discrimination. Rare does not take on employers as clients on a sole agency basis, making sure they do not go beyond their limited sphere of graduates. It also only takes on employers as clients if they can prove they have an under-representation of ethnic staff.