Diversity management: social justice for migrants and ethnic minorities key to addressing structural racism

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The EESC warns that EU diversity policies should focus on all aspects of the lives of migrants and ethnic minorities to counter their discrimination, which has been further worsened by the COVID-19 crisis.

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has called on the European Union and the Member States to use an holistic approach to promote diversity and inclusiveness in their societies and to step up legal and political efforts to tackle rising racism and xenophobia in Europe.

With the number of attacks and hate speech directed at migrants and ethnic minorities increasing and the current pandemic exacerbating their structural discrimination, the EU urgently needs to do more on this front, including by promoting diversity management, the EESC said in the opinion "Diversity management in the EU Member States".

An exploratory opinion, it was requested by the German EU presidency, who invited the EESC to set out good practices in diversity management in relation to migration and ethnicity in the Member States. To this end, the EESC conducted cases studies in four countries – Finland, France, Italy and Poland –representing four different parts of Europe. The results were presented in the opinion and its appendix.

The case studies revealed that migrant workers were concentrated in low paid and precarious employment in all four countries, the most extreme situation being in Italy, followed by France, and with Poland trending in the same direction. Women of colour experience the highest rates of employment discrimination in all four countries, compared with white Europeans and men of their own ethnic group. In all four countries, Roma remain the minority facing the strongest marginalisation, including in employment.

The opinion was drafted by the EESC's former Polish member Adam Rogalewski and presented by Carlos Trindade, rapporteur-general, at the inaugural plenary session of the EESC's 2020-2025 term of office.

The opinion is very timely as it is adopted in the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter movement, a movement that again shows that not only the US but Europe too needs to do more to tackle racism including institutional racism, Mr Rogalewski said.

As the opinion points out, in many instances migrants and ethnic minorities in Europe have been at the forefront of tackling the pandemic and its consequences, while also disproportionately bearing the risks.

COVID-19 is exacerbating structural racism in Europe. Ethnic minorities and migrants not only face greater exposure to the disease but are at greater risk of associated inequalities from the economic and social fallout, and are less likely to be supported, Mr Trindade noted.

The EESC is adamant that their contribution must be recognised. One way to do this it to provide them with quality working conditions, fair wages and adequate social protection. Migrants should have access to the same standards of quality accommodation, education and health as those available to European citizens. Policies to protect undocumented migrants should also be implemented.

Fighting structural racism across all institutions requires social justice for ethnic minorities and migrants. To that end, we call on the EU and the Member States to increase their legal and political efforts to tackle racism and xenophobia, Mr Trindade told the plenary.

In the opinion, the EESC argued that sound diversity management should focus on all aspects of the work and daily lives of migrants and ethnic minorities. This includes how they are treated in the workplace, their education and access to public services, their social rights and their integration into local communities.

Since they are not a homogeneous group, diversity management should take into consideration their heterogeneity and multiple identities. This points to the importance of an intersectional approach, as some people can experience multiple forms of discrimination on the grounds of their gender or sexual orientation, age, religion or disability.

The EESC recommended that the EU and its Member States proactively secure more funds for diversity management, particularly for social partners and civil society organisations to develop and implement diversity policies.

It also called on the EU and the Member States to provide free and universal education and training, including language courses, to enable migrants to fully participate in the labour market. Diversity policies should also address the problem of insufficient use of migrants' skills and competences.

The principles of diversity management should be mainstreamed across the different EU policy areas and incorporated into the EU rules on public procurement, by taking into account whether companies have diversity policies as a criterion for awarding public contracts.

The EESC encouraged employers to develop robust diversity management strategies in collaboration with trade unions. They should also aim to apply diversity policies across entire supply chains.

The opinion pointed to the need to improve equality data collection and monitoring of diversity policies in the labour market in the Member States and at EU level. However, collection of sensitive personal data concerning ethnicity, religion and migration background should only occur with proper safeguards in place, ensuring informed consent, self-identification, voluntary participation, respect for privacy and confidentiality of personal data and in consultation with groups at risk of discrimination.

It was also important, the opinion asserted, to support migrants in being active not only in the labour market but also in decision-making processes. Enfranchising migrants so that they can participate in local elections on the same basis as EU citizens and stand as representatives of local communities was also an essential aspect of promoting diversity in European societies.

The EU institutions, including the EESC, should lead by example in diversity management, including by increasing the number of members and personnel from ethnic minority backgrounds, the EESC opinion concluded.