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Fight against discrimination or promotion of diversity in employment? An ambiguous public policy in the Brussels-Capital Region (1997-2012)

Notes de la rédaction

This is the press release related to the article from Alexandre Tandé, published on February 5th 2018.

Several studies carried out as of the end of the 1990s highlighted the systemic nature of employment discrimination in Belgium. Despite the same level of training and experience, applicants of foreign origin are recruited less often by employers. In Brussels – a city-region characterised by a high level of unemployment and a large immigrant population – these results have a strong impact.

The regional government of Brussels and social partners took action to raise awareness among the economic sectors, employment agency staff and job applicants. A few years later, however, the problem persisted. For the Brussels public authorities, these results conveyed the ineffectiveness of their action, and new instruments were created in order to intervene directly at company level (Diversity Charter, Plan and Label). This involved convincing companies of the benefits of the proper management of the diversity of their staff, in particular in terms of performance and image.

The gradual shift from the fight against discrimination to the promotion of diversity has raised some questions. In the 120th issue of Brussels Studies, Alexandre Tandé – who has a doctorate in political and social science from Université libre de Bruxelles and Université Lille 2, and is currently an associate research fellow at Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity (Göttingen, Germany) – recounts the recent history (1997-2012) of a particularly critical period in the Brussels employment policy. His analysis is based on oral sources (semi-structured interviews conducted with stakeholders associated with the regional policy: political cabinet, regional administration, employer organisations and trade unions) and a large corpus of documents (minutes of meetings, activity reports, strategic notes, press articles). In this article, the subject is based in particular on the archives of the Territorial Employment Pact of the Brussels Region.

As the Territorial Employment Pact has been dissolved and the management of this policy has been taken over by the regional employment agency Actiris and the Conseil de la non-discrimination et de la diversité (CNDD) which defines it, what has this experience taught us? According to Alexandre Tandé, the events in recent history raise three questions.

The first question involves the objectives of non-discrimination and the promotion of diversity today. The assertion of this notion in the mid-2000s contributed to reducing the attention to the problem of discrimination. Likewise, by focusing on private companies, the regional government partly lost sight of the populations of foreign origin who were the initial targets of its intervention. Furthermore, the notion of diversity still does not seem to have received theoretical and operational content in public action in Brussels. This raises questions, as the Region also has a diversity policy within its own administration, and in 2017 it organised a series of public events on this theme.

A second question involves the impact of this policy and its measures on human resources management modes in private sector companies. The first evaluation of the measure indicated quite significant effects on staff management modes and, sometimes, an improvement in the situation of workers of foreign origin in the companies which had committed themselves. But significant variations between plans were also underlined, in terms of the implementation and the impact of this policy. This could also be questioned for the Brussels Region at macro-economic level, and not only within companies which are directly associated.

And finally, a third question emerges: that of the participation of populations exposed to discrimination in the elaboration and implementation of policies which concern them primarily. The absence of stakeholders who represent their interests directly in the Territorial Pact prompted a shift from the fight against discrimination to the promotion of diversity, and also contributes to the limited impact of the Diversity Plans.

Alexandre Tandé, “Fight against discrimination or promotion of diversity in employment? An ambiguous public policy in the Brussels-Capital Region (1997-2012)”, Brussels Studies [Online], General collection, No 120, 05 February 2018. URL:
Benjamin Wayens, Senior Editor: bwayens[at]

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