Created in partnership with the Helpdesk on Business & Human Rights

Contextual Risk Factors

The elimination of discrimination in operations and supply chains requires an understanding of its underlying causes and the consideration of a wide range of contextual issues. Key risk factors include:

  • Widespread societal/cultural acceptance of discrimination: Discrimination may be used to maintain the advantages (whether economic, political, social, educational, racial, etc.) of one group over other(s). Power disparities can, over time, be solidified due to unequal access to education and public life. For example, in India, it is a punishable offence to practice ‘untouchability’ (i.e. a severe form of discrimination against Dalits and other members of scheduled castes). Despite policy development and legislation, caste-based discrimination remains deeply entrenched.
  • Laws and regulation: In some countries, certain groups are actively and directly discriminated against through laws and regulations. Marriage inequality is one such example, where marriage between same-sex couples remains banned in many countries. Although there has been greater global recognition of LGBTIQ+ rights over the last few decades, same-sex marriage is only legal in 29 countries.
  • Poorly enforced domestic labour laws due to a lack of government resources and/or capacity. This can lead to discrimination issues occurring in the workplace without any remediation as the legal system to address discrimination may be weak. While anti-gender discrimination laws exist in many countries, women continue to be discriminated against in the workplace, for instance by facing pay inequality or sexual harassment.
  • Religious factors and preferences: In some countries or regions religious differences can be a cause of discrimination. Religious discrimination occurs when an individual is treated differently because of their religion or belief, or lack of religion or belief. This can manifest in discrimination in the workplace. For example, Muslims face intolerance and discrimination in Europe, where they may suffer social exclusion, including barriers to accessing education and employment.
  • Migration flows: Migration has increased hugely in the last twenty years, resulting in many workplaces having employees from a range of countries and nationalities. This can exacerbate discrimination on the grounds of race, nationality, religion, language or appearance as multicultural workforces are increasingly common, and stigmas or clashes may occur. Migrants often face significant discrimination in obtaining jobs and attaining pay equality in Western Europe and other parts of the industrialized world. A 2020 ILO report finds that migrants earn nearly 13% less on average than national workers in high-income countries.
  • Globalization of operations: Many companies operate in regions where legal frameworks and political attitudes may not be conducive to the elimination of discrimination. When companies operate in countries where discrimination is rampant, workers in their operations and supply chains are more likely to face workplace conditions where gender, religious, racial, linguistic or other types of discrimination may occur.

Racial Discrimination in Employment

Discrimination is found in all industries and there are no particular industries or sectors where discrimination is more prevalent. This focus box highlights how racial discrimination, in particular, can occur in the workplace and applies to all sectors.

  • Recruitment: Racism can begin during the hiring or recruitment process. Firstly, companies that rely on networks and informal connections to find new candidates may unintentionally exclude people of different races or ethnicities, as social networks are likely to be mostly with those of the same race or ethnicity. Secondly, while companies may not actively discriminate against candidates based on race, racial profiling or unconscious biases can alter recruiters’ opinions of candidates.
  • Workplace: Racism can occur in the workplace, particularly where there are weak, ineffective or even non-existent policies on racism. Racism may go unreported by victims when they feel their complaint will not help to create change, or that it could in fact harm them further. Racial microaggressions, for example, can be subtle or unintentional, but are nevertheless a form of discrimination against members of a marginalized group. Employers should take steps to prevent microaggressions and ensure that complaints on microaggressions do not go unresolved. Racism can also cause employees to lose out on opportunities, such as training or promotion. Finally, racism can also be a factor in the termination of employment.
  • Supply chains: For businesses with global supply chains, racism may look different in different countries. For example, companies operating in the Indian subcontinent are likely to face attitudes that continue to be deeply entrenched in caste-based discrimination. Workers from caste-affected communities are particularly vulnerable to working under hazardous conditions for minimal pay. Dalits are also more likely to face long working hours, sexual harassment, lower wages and other forms of abusive working conditions and negative treatment.
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