Principle 6: Labour

Businesses should uphold the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

What does it mean?

Discrimination in employment and occupation means treating people differently or less favourably because of characteristics that are not related to their merit or the inherent requirements of the job. In national law, these characteristics commonly include: race, colour, sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction, social origin, age, disability, HIV/AIDS status, trade union membership, and sexual orientation. However, Principle 6 allows companies to consider additional grounds where discrimination in employment and occupation may occur.

Discrimination can arise in a variety of work-related activities. These include access to employment, to particular occupations, promotions and to training and vocational guidance. Moreover, it can occur with respect to the terms and conditions of the employment, such as:

  • Recruitment
  • Remuneration
  • Hours of work and rest/paid holidays
  • Maternity protection
  • Security of tenure
  • Job assignments
  • Performance assessment and advancement
  • Training and opportunities
  • Job prospects
  • Social security
  • Occupational safety and health

In many countries, additional issues for discrimination in the workplace, such as age, HIV status and sexual orientation, are growing in importance. It is also important to realize that discrimination at work arises in a range of settings, and can be a problem in both rural agricultural business or in a high technology city-based business.

Non-discrimination in employment means simply that employees are selected on the basis of their ability to do the job and that there is no distinction, exclusion or preference made on other grounds. Employees who experience discrimination at work are denied opportunities and have their basic human rights infringed. This affects the individual concerned and negatively influences the greater contribution that they might make to society.

Discrimination can take many forms, both in terms of gaining access to employment and in the treatment of employees once they are in work. It may be direct, such as when laws, rules or practices explicitly cite a reason such as sex or race to deny equal opportunity. Most commonly, however, discrimination is indirect and arises where rules or practices have the appearance of neutrality but in fact lead to exclusions. This indirect discrimination often exists informally in attitudes and practices, which if
unchallenged can perpetuate in organizations. Discrimination may also have cultural roots that demand more specific approaches.

Why should companies care?

From a business point of view discrimination does not make sense. It leads to social tensions that are potentially disruptive to the business environment within the company and in society. A company that uses discriminatory practices in employment and occupation denies itself access to talents from a wider pool of workers, and thus skills and competencies. The hurt and resentment generated by discrimination will affect the performance of individuals and teams in the company.

Increasingly, graduates and new employees alike assess companies on the basis of their social and ethical policies at work. Discriminatory practices result in missed opportunities for development of skills and infrastructure to strengthen competitiveness in the national and global economy. Finally, discrimination isolates an employer from the wider community and can damage a company's reputation, potentially affecting profits and stock value.

On the positive side, diversity and inclusion in the workplace can produce positive outcomes for business, for individuals and societies. For business, it can improve
productivity, be a source of innovation, facilitate better risk management, enhance customer and business partner satisfaction, and open the door to or help maintain business opportunities.

What can companies do?

First and foremost, companies need to respect all relevant local and national laws. Any company introducing measures to promote equality needs to be aware of the diversities of language, culture and family circumstance that may exist in the workforce. Managers and supervisory staff, in particular, should seek to develop an understanding of the different types of discrimination and how it can affect the workforce. For example, women constitute a growing proportion of the world's workforce, but consistently earn less than their male counterparts. Employees with disabilities may have particular needs that should be met, where reasonable, in order to ensure that they have the same opportunities (e.g. for training and advancement) as their peers.

Companies can take specific actions to address discrimination and eliminate it within the workplace. Some examples are:

In the workplace

  • Institute company policies and procedures which make qualifications, skill and experience the basis for the recruitment, placement, training and advancement of staff at all levels
  • Assign responsibility for equal employment issues at a high level, issue clear company-wide policies and procedures to guide equal employment practices, and link advancement to desired performance in this area
  • Work on a case by case basis to evaluate whether a distinction is an inherent requirement of a job, and avoid application of job requirements that would systematically disadvantage certain groups
  • Keep up-to-date records on recruitment, training and promotion that provide a transparent view of opportunities for employees and their progression within the organization
  • Conduct unconscious bias training
  • Where discrimination is identified, develop grievance procedures to address complaints, handle appeals and provide recourse for employees
  • Be aware of formal structures and informal cultural issues that can prevent employees from raising concerns and grievances
  • Provide staff training on non-discrimination policies and practices, including disability awareness. Reasonably adjust the physical environment to ensure health and safety for employees, customers and other visitors with disabilities.
  • Establish programs to promote access to skills development training and to particular occupations

In the community of operation

  • Encourage and support efforts to build a climate of tolerance and equal access to opportunities for occupational development such as adult education programs and health and childcare services
  • In foreign operations, companies may need to accommodate cultural traditions and work with representatives of workers and governmental authorities to ensure equal access to employment by women and minorities

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