Serving world leaders their lunch is a serious affair. No room for “blondes” or women in dresses then, it appears.
The Nuclear Security Summit is in its second day in The Hague and has brought leaders from 53 countries together to discuss ways of combating nuclear terrorism. The catering company responsible for feeding the leaders and delegates has made a controversial staffing decision: No female serving staff are working in the plenary room where the main talks are being held. Instead, only men over 25 have been given the privilege of serving the working lunches at the World Forum. The decision has sparked outrage on social media in The Netherlands, but why was it made in the first place?
According to Dutch national newspaper the Algemeen Dagblad, the director of the catering company, Hans van der Linde, was looking to create a “uniform” look amongst his staff. They quote him justifying his decision in the following manner: “If 20 gentlemen are serving and three platinum blonde ladies, then that spoils the image.
"The personnel needs to act in as reserved a manner as possible, and you can’t achieve that by adding a couple of pretty, conspicuous ladies to the mix,” he added.
The summit’s spokesperson Daphne Kerremans confirmed that the request was made for the serving staff to appear uniform. It was left up to the caterer to decide whether to staff the plenary events with either all men, or all women.
In pictures: The Nuclear Security Summit 2014
In pictures: The Nuclear Security Summit 2014
1/17 The waiters who got the job
The male waiters prepare the plenary table during a break at the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit on March 25, 2014 in The Hague, Netherlands
2/17 The official group shot
The heads of the delegations pose for an official group photo at the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit on March 25, 2014 in The Hague, Netherlands
3/17 Talk amongst yourselves
US President Barack Obama waves next to Chinese President Xi Jinping as they pose for a family picture with other world leaders, ministers and heads of international organisations on the second day of the two-day Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague on March 25, 2014
4/17 Angela Merkel and Sauli Niinisto
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto at an informal plenary at the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit
5/17 The opening session
The opening session of the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit on March 24, 2014 in The Hague, Netherlands.
6/17 Barack Obama and Mark Rutte
US President Barack Obama shakes hands with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte following a press conference at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague on March 25, 2014 at the end of the Nuclear Security Summit
7/17 The empty chair
German Chancellor Angela Merkel looks at the empty seat of the US president in The Hague on March 25, 2014 on the second day of the two-day Nuclear Security Summit
8/17 Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and Mark Rutte
South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane greets Dutch Foreign Minister Mark Rutte at The World Forum in The Hague on March 24, 2014 on the first day of the two-day Nuclear Security Summit
9/17 View on the opening
A general view of the opening session of the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit on March 24, 2014 in The Hague, Netherlands
10/17 Helle Thorning Schmidt
Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt arrives for meetings on the second day of the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit on March 25, 2014 in The Hague, Netherlands.
11/17 Park Geun-hye and Barack Obama
US President Barack Obama speaks next to South Korean President Park Geun-hye during a trilateral meeting with the Japanese prime minister at the US ambassador's residence in The Hague on March 25, 2014 after they attended the Nuclear Security Summit
12/17 Federica Mogherini and Mark Rutte
Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini speaks with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte during a session on the second day of the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague on March 25, 2014
13/17 Julie Bishop
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop leaves at the end of the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague on March 25, 2014
14/17 Ban Ki-moon and Barack Obama
President Barack Obama chats with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon following the group photo at the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit on March 25, 2014 in The Hague, Netherlands
15/17 Erna Solberg and Helle Thorning-Schmidt
Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg, left, and Denmark's Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, were two of the seven female leaders present at the summit.
16/17 The G7
The G7 countries took the opportunity to discuss the recent developments in Ukraine during the Nuclear Security Summit. From left to right: President of the European Council Herman van Rompuy, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, French President Francois Hollande, British Prime Minster David Cameron, U.S. President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso
17/17 The royals and Dalia Grybauskaite
Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima greet Lithuania President Dalia Grybauskaite (right), at the Royal Palace Huis ten Bosch in The Hague, Netherlands, 24 March 2014
In addition to the desire for uniformity, there may be other factors at play, says Jean-Paul Weijers, director of the Protocolbureau that is also involved in the summit. He believes that the decision for all-male staff within the main meeting area could be an attempt to prevent the world leaders from getting distracted. “Everything is taken into consideration when organising such an important gathering. That includes things like this.”
In addition, he says that the fact that there are world leaders from the Muslim world present may have influenced the decision making. “They understand that in the West there are different standards, but The Netherlands is a small country that is used to adapting quickly to bigger countries.”
The news unleashed a Twitter storm, with critics calling the decision ‘un-Dutch’ and a violation of human rights.
In an attempt to clarify himself, van der Linde spoke to Radio 1 about keeping his female employees out of the plenary sessions. He denied ever mentioning hair colour, and told the station that he had initially come up with “the creative idea to only employ ladies to serve the world leaders, and to have them do that in little Delft Blue dresses.” His idea was apparently rejected by the ministry of Foreign Affairs, who made it clear that a more sober appearance would be appropriate. Van der Linde added: “We also have to go up a very steep flight of stairs, so little dresses wouldn’t be practical, as you wouldn’t be able to lift your legs high enough”.