Equal opportunity not exactly equal in France

23rd November 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Nov 23 (AFP) - An official report presented to the French government Tuesday paints a damning picture of racial discrimination in the workplace and recommends a series of measures including the mandatory introduction of anonymous CVs.

PARIS, Nov 23 (AFP) - An official report presented to the French government Tuesday paints a damning picture of racial discrimination in the workplace and recommends a series of measures including the mandatory introduction of anonymous CVs.

According to the report, young people of Arab and African origin are up to five times more likely to be unemployed than the rest of the French population, while their chances of even achieving an interview are severely reduced as a result of their name and skin colour.

In education the number of Arabs and Africans gaining access to top flight university courses and the elite "grandes ecoles" is decreasing, while problems at primary and secondary level mean that schools are "incapable of ensuring basic literacy among non French-speaking immigrants."

"For reasons linked to our history and which are the result of policies conducted over half a century, the principle of equal opportunity rings hollow in the ears of millions," the report says.

"It may well be inscribed on the pedestal of the republic and the marble of our constitution, but for many it is just that - a principle - and in no way a reality. Socially relegated and geographically concentrated, these people are the ones that equal opportunities forgot."

Drawn up by a comittee headed by the former president of the insurance giant Axa Claude Bebear, the study argues that it is not just bad morals but also bad economics to deprive France of a huge number of often well-qualified workers.

"The situation we are in is doubly absurd. Companies are ignoring a considerable human resource, and young people - many with degrees - are excluded from our collective project," it says.

Quoting recent academic studies it says that young people from so-called "sensitive areas" - the high-immigration council estates that surround most French towns and cities - are "between three and five times more likely to be hit by unemployment than others."

An investigation conducted in Paris revealed that a young man of European appearance and name was granted 75 interviews when he sent out his resume, while a person with exactly the same qualifications but of North African origin was given just 14.

Unemployment among graduates of immigrant origin is abnormally high, the report says. The rate is five percent for people of French origin, 7.2 percent for foreigners from inside the European Union and 18 percent for foreigners from outside the EU.

One of the biggest obstacles to any attempt to tackle the problem is France's refusal to draw up official statistics based on racial origin, on the grounds that this is an infringement of the principle of equality for all, the report's authors found.

Large companies were being asked to practice non-discrimination but had no means of discovering where the problem lay. "Businesses have no idea of the number of minority members in the work force, nor the type of jobs they hold nor their level of education," the report says.

The study was issued at a time of growing debate in France about whether to opt for British- and American-style "positive discrimination" in order to promote the integration of minorities. President Jacques Chirac is opposed but his ambitious rival on the right Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy is in favour.

Bebear's report takes a nuanced line, calling for "positive mobilisation" and recommending a series of moves to encourage recruitment among what it called the "visible minorities ... people living in France whose skin-colour distinguishes them in the eyes of most of our citizens."

In order to ensure true competition among candidates for a job, all CVs sent to medium and large companies should be screened before arriving at the human resources department so that names and photographs are removed, the report says.

Companies should be allowed to conduct regular statistical analyses to determine the extent and nature of immigrant employment; they should be encouraged to sponsor the higher education of promising pupils from poor areas; and recruitment to "grandes ecoles" and other elite institutions should be diversified.

Bebear's study coincided with an equally scathing report from the government's financial regulator the Cour de Comptes on the failures of France's policies of integration.

"The situation of a large part of the people who came in the latest wave of immigration is more than disturbing. Not only does it lead to often disgraceful situations, it is the origin ... of serious social and racial tensions which are heavy with menace for the future," it says.


Subject: French News

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