Non-discrimination in human resources management as a moral obligation

Journal of Business Ethics 88 (1):83 - 101 (2009)
Abstract
In this paper, I will argue that it is a moral obligation for companies, firstly, to accept their moral responsibility with respect to non-discrimination, and secondly, to address the issue with a full-fledged programme, including but not limited to the countering of microsocial discrimination processes through specific policies. On the basis of a broad sketch of how some discrimination mechanisms are actually influencing decisions, that is, causing intended as well as unintended bias in Human Resources Management (HRM), I will argue that the well known tools of legislation and ethical codes are necessary although insufficient to cope with the problem. However, based on empirical evidence, we know which set of measures is likely to diminish discrimination. Taking non-discrimination seriously implies complex and longitudinal policies which include assigning responsibility for a non-discrimination policy within the firm, making managers conscious of implicit stereotypes and helping them to cope with prejudices that no one can totally overcome. Insofar as corporate responsibility with respect to non-discrimination is accepted and strategies that are not prohibitively expensive are known, companies are bound to implement them. Not implementing the best set of measures may be considered at least as a moral shortcoming or, depending on the size of the company, mere lip service to the non-discrimination principle. Although the paper refers to empirical material of diverse backgrounds, its intent is clearly normative. It wishes to spell out what companies ought to do if they are committed to responsible behaviour. The discussion of effective remedies against discrimination is based on a case study of a French company. The retailer Auchan was recently surprised to learn that it was discriminating against ethnic minorities despite strong ethical standards, an ethics committee and ethical leadership. The company dropped its naïve beliefs and set up an ambitious policy cope with the issue. The case illustrates what recent empirical research has revealed about the effectiveness of diversity policies: establishing responsibility for diversity results, firm ethical commitment and support from top management make diversity programs effective.
Keywords discrimination  diversity  human resources management  implicit association  CSR
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