Calls for legislation if business fails on race

Legislation should be used to tackle racial inequality if businesses fail to
make a step change in their commitment over the next three years, according to
a government-appointed taskforce.

The Race Equality and Diversity Taskforce, which reported last
week, said there was a strong business case for companies to embrace the race
equality agenda in how they recruit, retain and promote people from ethnic
minority communities.

James Reed, chairman of recruitment consultancy Reed Executive,
and a member of the taskforce, said the threat of legislation was needed to
ensure sufficient focus on the issue.

"There has been a lot of talking and something now needs
to be done," he said. "At the moment we are seeing two different
approaches in the public and private sectors. It will be interesting to see
whether that changes over the next three years," he said. "If nothing
does, I think it will be appropriate to regulate."

However, Fleur Bothwick, European diversity director at Lehman
Brothers investment bank, questioned whether forcing companies into race
equality schemes was the way forward.

"The most sustainable programmes are driven by a belief
and commitment to diversity," she said. "I think for a scheme to be
‘real’ a company has to believe it’s the right thing to do."

Dianah Worman, equal opportunities adviser at the Chartered
Institute of Personnel and Development, agreed that legislation could create
negative attitudes towards diversity.

"It is important to maintain momentum. But it does take a
long time for people to connect with the issue," she said.

The taskforce recommendations come hot on the heels of a damning
report from the Commission for Racial Equality into race equality in UK police
forces. This showed that training alone is not enough to create a culture of
diversity in any business (News, 22 June).

Taskforce recommends

– Companies should appoint an equal opportunities champion at board level,
with a nominated race equality champion immediately below

– Listed companies should be required to report and promote progress on
equal opportunities and diversity in annual reports

– Businesses should use their procurement power to encourage suppliers to
have effective race equality practices

– A virtual one-stop shop should be created to advise businesses on race
equality issues

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