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The European Commission has played a leading role in enacting anti-discrimination laws prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sex, racial and ethnic origin, sexual orientation, religion and belief, disability and age, according to Article 13 of the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam.

Since the Amsterdam Treaty came into force in 1999, new EC directives, such as the Racial Equality Directive, 2000/43/EC and the Employment Equality Directive, 2000/78/EC, have been adopted to help combat discrimination, particularly in the area of employment.

In spite of expansion in legislation at the EC and individual member states (e.g, in Great Britain, the Race Relations Act 1976, and the Sex Discrimination Act, 1975), there is still widespread recognition that discrimination in employment will not disappear on its own and that appropriate measures are required in order to nurture a workforce that reflects the diverse community being served.

In spite of this "re-writing" of EC law, and the significant expansion in the personal and material scope which has occurred, enforcement of the legislation at national level is still to occur primarily through the action of individual victims who decide to challenge (allegedly) discriminatory behaviour before courts.

This enforcement mechanism was also provided for in the earliest gender non-discriminatory directives which date back to the 1970s, and it has been the subject of criticism over the years due to the financial and emotional burden on the litigants. The failure of anti-discrimination policies and legislation in dealing with ingrained discrimination and inequity can be attributed in part to the fact that the primary focus of the law has always been to react to extreme discriminatory incidents once they have occurred. Positive action is a proactive means of addressing the limitations and restriction inherent to an individual enforcement model based on litigation.

Research Questions

  • What role can positive action measures play in preventing or remedying discrimination, building on the knowledge of the existing legal framework in the European Union?
  • How do policies, practices and effectiveness of positive action measures including and mechanisms for evaluating the impact of the measures differ between Member States in the European Union, and how do these compare with Canada, United States and South Africa?

Aims and Objectives

The study seeks to help the European Commission develop a framework for better understanding the role that positive action measures can play in practice in preventing or remedying discrimination, building on the knowledge of the existing legal framework set out in other studies.

It will also help the Commission gain a better insight in what kind of practical positive action measures are already being taken in the EU (and in the EFTA-EEA countries participating in PROGRESS) and in third countries, as well as the possible outcomes, costs and benefits of the positive action measures.

Seeking views from individuals who are responsible for designing and implementing positive action measures e.g. Director of Human Resources, Equality and Diversity Leads and Senior Managers with responsibility for equality, the specific objectives include:

  • Assessing perceptions, understanding and the rationale for developing and implementing strategies for positive action covering 6 strands of age, disability, gender, race, religion and belief, and sexual orientation
  • Identifying types, range of positive action measures and how widespread they are across the private, public and third sectors, and the lengths of time these have been in operation
  • Examining the outcomes and impact of positive action measures in participating organisations
  • Obtaining the views of organisations about the actual or perceived benefits, including relative success, and main obstacles and barriers of implementing positive action (focusing on best practice) and lessons learned
  • Exploring mechanisms utilised for evaluating the effectiveness of positive action
  • Exploring perceived (cost-)effectiveness of the actions undertaken and how this could be improved
  • Exploring the historical, social and political context within which positive action have been developed

For further information, please contact Professor Uduak Archibong.