Working with Business: 1994-1997
MPG’s engagement with businesses to capitalise on diversity came out of the work MPG undertook for the Council of Europe, namely the preparations of two series of Roundtables. Building on the ensuing Review of the implementation of Community Relations policies, MPG, together with the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe, published the report ‘Comparative Approaches to Societal Integration in Europe’. On the basis of these findings MPG developed a new project entitled ‘The Socio-Economic Inclusion of Immigrants and Ethnic Minorities: Building New Partnerships’.
The ‘Comparative Approaches to Societal Integration in Europe’ project was carried out from May 1994 to July 1996 as a response to a widespread perception of failed policies and practices aimed at the integration of immigrants and ethnic minorities in the region.
The project sought to stimulate debate and co-operation throughout Europe on various policy options concerning integration, and was based on the assumption that through a comparative exchange of experience among various European countries, positive strategies could be developed and new initiatives tabled in an effort to facilitate societal integration.
The Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe initiated the Societal Integration project in May 1994 with the support of the European Commission. The project brought together representatives from national ministries responsible for integration matters, NGOs, academic experts, migrant groups and other societal organisations in a substantive and candid dialogue on these issues to examine the policy successes and failures of six European countries in integrating their ethnic minority populations.
MPG published the report ‘The Comparative Approaches to Societal Integration in Europe’ and on the basis of the findings of the study, developed a new project entitled ‘The Socio-Economic Inclusion of Immigrants and Ethnic Minorities: Building New Partnerships’.
This project was launched in September 1996 and concluded in the autumn of 1997. It examined strategies for promoting the labour market inclusion of immigrants and ethnic minorities in Europe. The project underscored a growing consensus that employment is perhaps the most crucial factor in countering the marginalisation of disadvantaged groups. This discussion became even more pronounced in the wake of continued economic restructuring and corporate and governmental downsizing, which disproportionately affected Europe’s immigrant and ethnic minority populations. Employment, above all, and the quality of this employment – which provides individuals with the means to assume greater responsibility for their own lives – was seen as the most effective bridge to participation and co-adaptation in the host society.
The second major finding, particularly given the importance attributed to employment issues – was that a crucial sector was missing from strategy and development in this area: the business community. This stemmed from a widespread conception that business practices had contributed substantially to processes of marginalisation: through the employment of illegal (and thus exploitable) labourers; and the continued exodus of firms and jobs from impoverished urban centres. The new project was thus designed to engage private sector employers in the generating of ideas and resources in this area.
The ‘Building new partners’ project also took into consideration the fact that throughout Europe, a broader assessment of the role of government in integration matters was taking place, based on fiscal imperatives and a pragmatic recognition of the limits of government action in social and economic life. This general trend towards privatisation and de-regulation was accompanied by a steady devolution of the authority and financial responsibility for integration matters to local governments and to a wider group of non-governmental actors. Effective partnerships between the various sectors of society – public, private, and non-governmental – was an important focus of the ‘New Partners’ study.
During 1996 and 1997 MPG carried out a survey of employment practices in key EU cities chosen on the basis of their concentrations of large immigrant and ethnic minority populations and their historical-geographical range: Antwerp; Bradford and London; Copenhagen; Lyon; Milan; Stockholm; Vienna; Athens; Cologne; Frankfurt; Helsinki; Madrid; and Paris.
The survey consisted of interviews with local business leaders (including ethnic minority entrepreneurs and their assistance agencies), branch office agents of international corporations, representatives from the trade unions and employers’ associations and municipal authorities. It entailed examination of a wide range of initiatives by companies and governments, including various practices within individual firms and departments (employment recruitment, professional development, training of managerial and non-managerial staff) and external practices in local communities (i.e. urban regeneration projects, support for ethnic minority business development). The survey also identified a number of public-private co-operative ventures designed to enhance the economic activity of immigrant and ethnic minority populations.
MPG published the final report on the project, ‘Plus-Sum Gain: Business Investment in the Socio-Economic Inclusion of Europe’s Immigrant and Ethnic Minority Communities’ in English and French in November 1997. This was distributed at the closing conference of the European Year Against Racism (Luxembourg, December 1997).
The project concluded in autumn 1997. The programme was made possible by the support of the European Commission (DG V), the Joyce Mertz-Gilmore Foundation, Sweden 2000, Levi Strauss & Co., Northern Foods, and the Swedish Ministry of Interior.
As a consequence of its work in this area, MPG was asked by the European Business Network for Social Cohesion (now CSR Europe) to serve as a member of its Pilot Group on Racism to assist the Network in preparations for its 29-30 September 1997 conference in Lyon focusing on the business opportunities presented by Europe’s increasing ethnic and racial diversity. MPG included some of its survey findings in a co-authored report ‘Gaining from Diversity: Business participation and benefits in Europe’s ethnic and cultural change’, which served as the background document for the meeting.
MPG’s work with business continued to evolve beyond these projects leading to the Supplier Diversity Europe initiative.