Affirmative action

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The term affirmative action refers to policies that take race, gender, or ethnicity into account in an attempt to promote equal opportunity. The focus of such policies ranges from employment and education to public contracting and health programs (such as breast or prostate cancer screenings). The impetus towards affirmative action is twofold: to maximize the benefits of diversity in all levels of society, and to redress disadvantages due to overt, institutional, or involuntary discrimination.


[edit] Support

The impetus towards affirmative action is twofold: to maximize the benefits of diversity in all levels of society, and to redress perceived disadvantages due to overt, institutional, or involuntary discrimination. Supporters of Affirmative action cite the perceived present and past institutionalized limitations on the participants of the program. (see, Slavery in the United States, Jim Crow Laws, Apartheid, Segregation, Chauvinism, Misogyny, Male privilege, Bigotry)

[edit] Opposition

Some opponents say affirmative action devalues the accomplishments of people who are chosen because of the social group to which they belong rather than their qualifications.[1] Opponents also contend that affirmative action devalues the accomplishments of all those who belong to groups it is intended to help (e.g. all African American professionals), therefore making affirmative action counterproductive.[2]

Some opponents[3] further claim that affirmative action has undesirable side-effects in addition to failing to achieve its goals. They argue that it hinders reconciliation, replaces old wrongs with new wrongs, undermines the achievements of minorities, and encourages groups to identify themselves as disadvantaged, even if they are not. It may increase racial tension and benefit the more privileged people within minority groups at the expense of the least fortunate within majority groups (such as lower-class whites).[4]

Conservative commentator Dr. Thomas Sowell identified what he says are some negative results of race-based affirmative action in his book, Affirmative Action Around the World: An Empirical Study [5]. Sowell writes that affirmative action policies encourage non-preferred groups to designate themselves as members of preferred groups (i.e., primary beneficiaries of affirmative action) to take advantage of group preference policies; that they tend to benefit primarily the most fortunate among the preferred group (e.g., upper and middle class blacks), often to the detriment of the least fortunate among the non-preferred groups (e.g., poor white or Asian); that they reduce the incentives of both the preferred and non-preferred to perform at their best — the former because doing so is unnecessary and the latter because it can prove futile — thereby resulting in net losses for society as a whole; and that they increase animosity toward preferred groups.

[edit] International policies

An in-depth examination of the legal status of affirmative action, as well as the different kinds of programs that exist and their pros and cons, can be found in a paper written for the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights by one of its members, Marc Bossuyt.[6]

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination stipulates (in Article 2.2) that affirmative action programs may be required of countries that have ratified the convention, in order to rectify systematic discrimination. It states, however, that such programs "shall in no case entail as a consequence the maintenance of unequal or separate rights for different racial groups after the objectives for which they were taken have been achieved." The United Nations Human Rights Committee states, "the principle of equality sometimes requires States parties to take affirmative action in order to diminish or eliminate conditions which cause or help to perpetuate discrimination prohibited by the Covenant. For example, in a State where the general conditions of a certain part of the population prevent or impair their enjoyment of human rights, the State should take specific action to correct those conditions. Such action may involve granting for a time to the part of the population concerned certain preferential treatment in specific matters as compared with the rest of the population. However, as long as such action is needed to correct discrimination, in fact, it is a case of legitimate differentiation under the Covenant."[7]

[edit] Types

Affirmative action is generally established for:

[edit] Implementation worldwide

In some countries which have laws on racial equality, affirmative action is rendered illegal by a requirement to treat all races equally. This approach of equal treatment is sometimes described as being "color blind", in hopes that it is effective against discrimination without engaging in reverse discrimination.

In such countries, the focus tends to be on ensuring equal opportunity and, for example, targeted advertising campaigns to encourage ethnic minority candidates to join the police force. This is sometimes described as "positive action" or "positive discrimination".

[edit] The Americas

  • United States. The intended beneficiaries of affirmative action in the United States include disadvantaged ethnic minorities, women, people with disabilities, and veterans. Affirmative action has been the subject of numerous court cases,[8] and has been contested on constitutional grounds. In 2003 a Supreme Court decision concerning affirmative action in universities allowed educational institutions to consider race as a factor in admitting students.[9] Conservatives complain that state officials have widely disobeyed it. Alternatively, some colleges use financial criteria to attract racial groups that have typically been under represented and typically have lower living conditions. Executive Orders 11246 and 11375 prohibit federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, skin color, religion, gender, or national origin.
  • Brazil. Some Brazilian Universities (State and Federal) have created systems of preferred admissions (quotas) for racial minorities (blacks and native Brazilians), the poor and people with disabilities. There are already quotas of up to 20% of vacancies reserved for the disabled in the civil public services.[10]
  • Canada. The equality section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms explicitly guarantees the legal status of affirmative action. Subsection Two of Section 15 states that the equality provisions do "not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability." The Canadian Employment Equity Act requires employers in federally-regulated industries to give preferential treatment to four designated groups: Women, people with disabilities, aboriginal people, and visible minorities. In most Canadian Universities, people of Aboriginal background normally have lower entrance requirements and are eligible to receive exclusive scholarships. Some provinces and territories also have affirmative action-type polices. For example, in Northwest Territories in the Canadian north, aboriginal people are given preference for jobs and education and are considered to have P1 status. Non-aboriginal people who were born in the NWT or have resided half of their life there are considered a P2, as well as women and disabled people. Men receive the lowest priority, P3.[11] In some instances, people are hired for jobs who have lesser credentials than other people applying, simply because their status is higher.

[edit] Asia and Oceania

  • China. "preferential policies" required some of the top positions in governments be distributed to ethnic minorities and women. Also, many universities are required by government to give preferred admissions to ethnic minorities. [12][13]
See main article: Reservation in India
  • Japan. Admission to universities as well as all government positions (including teachers) are determined by the entrance exam, which is extremely competitive at the top level. It is illegal to include sex, ethnicity or other social background (but not nationality) in criteria. However, there are informal policies to provide employment and long term welfare (which is usually not available to general public) to Burakumin at municipality level.
  • Malaysia. The Malaysian New Economic Policy or NEP serves as a form of affirmative action. It promotes structural changes in various aspects of life from education to economic to social integration. Born after the race riots of 1969, it sought to address the significant imbalance in the economic sphere where the minority Chinese population had substantial control over commercial activity in the country. The dissatisfaction this caused among the native Malay resulted in the race riots of May 13, 1969. Tun Abdul Razak who took over the premiership from the country's first PM, Tunku Abdul Rahman, initiated the NEP. Since then racial violence has subsided but there are continued and persistent attacks on the policy from the Chinese and Indian community, claiming that it gives Malays an unfair advantage and is self-defeating, as it arguably makes Malaysia less economically competitive compared to its neighbors and entrenches structural privileges not based on merit. According to the government's own study, the policy has yet to achieve its target of redistributing 30 percent of national wealth to the Malays which constitute 50 per cent of the population. However, there are studies that contradict this and there are questions pertaining to each study's methodology. Malaysia is a multiethnic country, with Malays making up the majority, close to 52% of the population. About 30% of the population are Malaysians of Chinese descent. Malaysians of Indian descent comprise about 8% of the population. However, 99% of Petronas directors are Malays, only 3% of Petronas employees are Chinese, only 5% of all new intakes for government army, nurses, polices, are non-Malays, just 7% of government servants in the whole government are ethnic Chinese (2004), drop from 30% in 1960, and 95% of all government contracts are given to Malays.[14]
  • Sri Lanka. In 1971 the Standardization policy of Sri Lankan universities was introduced as an affirmative action program for students from areas which had poor educational facilities due to 200 years purposeful discrimination by British colonialists. The British had practised communal favoritism towards Christians and the minority Tamil community for the entire 200 years they had controlled Sri Lanka, as part of a policy of divide and conquer. This is one of the reasons for the Sri Lankan Civil War.

[edit] Europe

  • Finland. In certain university education programs, including legal and medical education, there are quotas for Swedish-speaking applicants. The aim of the quotas is to guarantee that a sufficient number of Swedish speaking professionals are educated, thus safeguarding the linguistic rights of the Swedish-speaking Finns. The quota system has met with criticism from the Finnish speaking majority, some of whom consider the system unfair. In addition to these linguistic quotas, women may get preferential treatment in recruitment for certain public sector jobs if there is a gender imbalance in the field.
  • France. No distinctions based on race, religion or sex are allowed under the 1958 French Constitution.[citation needed] Since the 1980s, a French version of affirmative action based on neighborhood is in place for primary and secondary education. Some schools, in neighborhoods labeled "Prioritary Education Zones", are granted more funds than the others. Students from these schools also benefit from special policies in certain institutions (such as Sciences Po).[citation needed] The French Ministry of Defense tried in 1990 to give more easily higher ranks and driving licenses to young French soldiers with North-African origins. After a strong protest by a young French lieutenant [16] in the Ministry of Defense newspaper ("Armées d'aujourd'hui"), this driving license and rank project was canceled. After the Sarkozy election, a new attempt in favour of Arabian-French students was made but Sarkozy did not gain enough political support to change the French constitution and then there is no affirmative action based on notions such a ethnicity, race or religion or whatever. The closest thing is that highly ranked French schools are obliged to take a certain amount of student of poor background and then the closest thing to affirmative action in France is based on the social background.[17]
  • Germany. Article 3 of the German basic law provides for equal rights of all people regardless of sex, race or social background. In recent years there has been a long public debate about whether to issue programs that would grant women a privileged access to jobs in order to fight discrimination. There are programs stating that if men and women have equal qualifications, women have to be preferred for a job. This is typically for all positions in state and university service as of 2007, typically using the phrase "We try to increase the percentage of females in this line of work"
  • Norway. All public company (ASA) boards with more than five members, either gender may not exceed 60% of the workforce.[15] This affects roughly 400 companies.
  • Sweden. Swedish democracy, although very solicitous about minorities' rights and integration, does not allow affirmative action.
  • The United Kingdom. Positive Discrimination is unlawful in the UK and quotas/selective systems are not permitted.[18][15] An exception to this is a provision made under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which requires that the Police Service of Northern Ireland recruit equal numbers of Catholics and non-Catholics. Positive action in encouraging people from under-represented backgrounds to apply for jobs is permitted, but it is illegal to discriminate in favour of them in awarding employment.[19] A form of affirmative action is used by the governing Labour Party, which uses All-women shortlists to ensure that more women are selected as election candidates. Controversial proposals to allow affirmative action in employment are currently being debated as part of a revising of the Equality Bill. [20]
  • Slovakia. The Constitutional Court declared in October 2005 that affirmative action i.e. "providing advantages for people of an ethnic or racial minority group" as being against its Constitution. [1]

[edit] Africa

  • South Africa. The Employment Equity Act and the Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment Act aim to promote and achieve equality in the workplace (in South Africa termed "equity"), by not only advancing people from designated groups but also specifically dis-advancing the others. By legal definition, the designated groups include all people of color, white females, people with disabilities, and people from rural areas. The term "black economic empowerment" is somewhat of a misnomer, therefore, because the acts cover empowerment of any member of the designated groups, regardless of race. However, government’s employment legislation reserves 80% of new jobs for black people and favours black-owned companies.[21] It is quota-based, with specific required outcomes. By a relatively complex scoring system, which allows for some flexibility in the manner in which each company meets its legal commitments, each company is required to meet minimum requirements in terms of representation by previously disadvantaged groups. The matters covered include equity ownership, representation at employee and management level (up to board of director level), procurement from black-owned businesses and social investment programs, amongst others. In 2008, the High Court in South Africa has ruled that Chinese South Africans are to be reclassified as black people. As a result of this ruling, ethnically Chinese citizens will be able to benefit from government Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) policies.[22]

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes and references

  1. ^ Sher, George, "Preferential Hiring", in Tom Regan (ed.), Just Business: New Introductory Essays In Business Ethics, Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1983, p.40.
  2. ^ Sher, George, "Preferential Hiring", in Tom Regan (ed.), Just Business: New Introductory Essays In Business Ethics, Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1983, p.40.
  3. ^ American Civil Rights Institute
  4. ^ Cultural Whiplash: Unforeseen Consequences of America's Crusade Against Racial Discrimination / Patrick Garry (2006) ISBN 1581825692
  5. ^ (ISBN 0-300-10199-6, 2004
  6. ^ United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. Commission on Human Rights, Economic and Social Council, 17 June 2002
  7. ^ United Nations Committee on Human Rights, General Comment 18 on Non-discrimination, Paragraph 10
  8. ^ Indy fire-fighters sue city, charge bias
  9. ^ Highlights of the 2002-2003 Supreme Court Term
  10. ^ Plummer, Robert. "Black Brazil Seeks a Better Future." BBC News, São Paulo 25 September 2006. 16 November 2006 <>.
  11. ^ GNWT - Human Resources - Affirmative Action <>
  12. ^ 2007 Graduate Student Admission Ordainment - Ministry of Education, PRC<>
  13. ^ Ethnic and Religious Affairs Commission of Guangdong Province <>
  14. ^ Bumiputra Policy in Malaysia
  15. ^ a b c UK Commission for Racial Equality website "Affirmative action around the world"
  16. ^ Jean-Pierre Steinhofer: "Beur ou ordinaire" in "Armee d'Ajourd'hui, 1991.
  17. ^ [°
  18. ^ "Is there a case for positive discrimination?"
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ Simon Wood meets the people who lost most when Mandela won in South Africa
  22. ^ We agree that you are black, South African court tells Chinese, The Times

[edit] External links

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