Equality chief berates 'cynical' companies

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The Independent Online
The chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality yesterday revealed years of frustration with the white establishment when he registered his "cynicism" over the high-minded pronouncements of government and business leaders.

Herman Ousley denounced an paper by the CBI on the business case for equal opportunities - A Winning Strategy - as "yet another initiative in a long line of initiatives". Speaking at the launch of the document at the CBI's central London offices, Mr Ousley also attacked the Government for the ethnic mix on its nationwide "new apprenticeship" scheme. He said that only 2 per cent of the participants in the first year of the scheme were black, whichamounted to a "disgrace". And, after 20 years of equal opportunities legislation, projects and initiatives, more than 62 per cent of black males in London were out of work, he said.

Research by the commission in the north of England and Scotland found that black people invariably encountered prejudice when applying for jobs. Applicants from ethnic minorities were frequently told jobs had been taken - while white applicants often found the same posts still vacant. The same discrepancy occurred in accommodation searches.

Even supposedly strong supporters of equal opportunities in the private sector had proved unsuccessful. Littlewoods had failed to secure an ethnic balance in his pools and mail order business, despite a 30-year aim to do so, Mr Ousley said.

Yesterday, the CBI conceded its own practices were far from perfect. About 58 per cent of CBI employees are women, mostly employed in the lower clerical grades. Just one woman is head of a CBI department.

Only 6.4 per cent of staff are from ethnic minorities; and 0.3 per cent are disabled.

The CRE chairman said that companies such as BA, Ford, Vauxhall and Mercury - all with progressive policies - had been forced to make "corporate climbdowns" in the past 12 months over their advertising and promotional material.

Kamlesh Bahl, chairwoman of the Equal Opportunities Commission, welcomed the CBI's document, but warned companies that unless they embraced equal opportunities, they were on a "suicidal path".