Equal treatment between persons irrespective of gender, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation is a core founding value of the European Union. In addition to being a fundamental right, with the financial crisis, equality has also become an economic imperative that needs to be further addressed and given exposure.
ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) recently organised in Brussels its 2013 President's debate, in association with the Irish presidency of the Council of the EU, to discuss with experts what can be done to fight inequalities and discrimination in the workplace.
The aim was to exchange best practice in terms of existing support towards diversity and also envisage what could be the next steps to reinforce that support.
The debate’s discussions revealed that despite the positive steps taken in the last half century, real equality is yet to be achieved in society. Managing diversity in working life needs further improvement – women are still facing discrimination in issues such as equal pay, or still experiencing difficulties such as reconciling a work and family life. Other interlinked societal issues include the discrimination towards older and disabled workers, which urgently require new structures and approaches.
In addition, the current economic crisis is putting further pressure on the finances of all EU member states, resulting in austerity measures and cuts in social policies, including equality. There was a large consensus among panellists that investing in equality policies should however not be sacrificed: these policies, by ensuring that all groups at risk of discrimination are empowered to play a positive role for growth and given the opportunity to show their talents, could contribute to the creation of a more inclusive and prosperous society. To face the daunting challenges linked to growth and jobs that are today – and quite realistically tomorrow as well - affecting most major economies, we cannot indeed afford to waste any economic contributions.
Richard Howitt , MEP Rapporteur on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), stressed that: 'Business progress on diversity must not be a victim of the economic crisis. The gains that we have worked hard to secure are now under huge pressure with redundancies a lingering threat, and continued economic uncertainty. The European Parliament has been clear in my report voted last month that CSR has to be at the heart of a truly inclusive and long-term sustainable recovery. Vulnerable groups are often the first and hardest hit victims of an economic downturn, but as policymakers we must use all tools at our disposal including a better use of public procurement and an increased emphasis on social and human rights standards to ensure that a sustainable recovery is also an inclusive recovery.'