Big firms fail race bias test

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More than 20 years after legislation outlawing racial discrimination, Britain's biggest companies have done little to recruit and promote black people, the Commission for Racial Equality is to say today.

A survey by the commission to be published today shows that while eight out of ten large organisations have written equal opportunites policies, these are rarely translated into action. The report will be seen as a reflection not only on senior managers,but also on the commission itself, which has the responsibility of ensuring the law is obeyed.

Less than half of the 168 companies in the study have taken any practical steps to ensure that employees or prospective employees do not suffer from racial discrimination.

While commission officials believe the percentage would have been much lower 10 years ago, they are disappointed that there is a "gap between promise and practice". They acknowledge that there are few members of ethnic minorities on the boards of the bigpublicly-quoted companies. The commission also argues that while the situation is bad among the big firms in the survey, it will inevitably be worse in smaller companies.

The CRE believes that senior management is suffering from a combination of "benign ignorance" and "laziness" over delivering equal opportunities polices. The study says that ``high ideals need hard work and unless a company's commitment to racial equality is simultaneously made a company priority, demanding accountability at the highest levels, it will never be more than an ideal".

The CRE will today publish a guide for companies, Racial Equality Means Business, which urges them to take practical action.