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Let’s talk about racism - report

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An interim report about the experiences of Black and minority ethnic workers in the workplace.
PDF icon Let’s talk about racism - report

Executive Summary

Trade unions have a long history of opposing racism and discrimination in the workplace. In recent years, though, the debate has narrowed to focus only on access to work. This has obscured the daily reality of racism at work for many BME workers – and has reduced the focus on stopping it.  

This report presents findings from a self-report survey of more than 5000 working people. It gives voice to the everyday experience of racism in the British workplace, and is part of an ongoing project to challenge racism at work. Further reports will be published later in 2017.

This report clearly shows that racial harassment still goes on in too many workplaces. The BME workers who completed our survey faced many forms of racial harassment in the workplace, including bullying, racist abuse and violence, hearing racist remarks or opinions, seeing racist material online and on posters, graffiti or leaflets. They told us that the perpetrator was most likely to be a work colleague, with a significant number saying that the perpetrator was their manager.

Our survey also showed that BME workers experience significant discrimination in the workplace, including excessive surveillance and scrutiny by colleagues, supervisors and managers. Respondents told us that they have been denied promotion, development or acting up opportunities and training and some have been unfairly disciplined because of their race.

It is clear that large numbers of BME workers are less likely to formally raise issues about racism at work with their employers. Most respondents prefer to speak to family members, friends or work colleagues - especially women respondents. The findings show that many BME workers do not have the confidence that their employer would deal with their complaint satisfactorily - and some worry that making a complaint risks them being identified as a trouble maker or forced out of their job.

Racism at work clearly has a huge impact on BME workers’ wellbeing. The survey shows that experiencing racism at work significantly impacts on BME workers’ mental health and causes stress. For many, the experiences had a negative impact on their work and some had to take time off sick.

This report explores the nature of racism at work and shines a light on an issue which is too often overlooked. And it sets out clear recommendations for action by government and employers.


To tackle racist discrimination and harassment at work, employers should:

  • Ensure they have a strong equality, diversity and dignity policy that explicitly includes zero tolerance for racism. They must make it clear that they will support all staff who raise concerns about racism and act to protect staff who are subject to racial abuse.
  • Make sure there is a simple method for BME workers to report racism at work, and make sure that BME workers feel confident that complaints about racism will be taken seriously, acted on and dealt with satisfactorily. Make sure that all staff know that workers who raise concerns about racism will not be victimised for doing so.
  • Publish data on BME pay, recruitment, promotion and dismissal; set aspirational targets for diversity at their organisation; and measure progress against those targets annually.
  • Work with trade unions to establish targets and develop positive action measures to address racial inequalities in the workforce.

To tackle racist harassment and discrimination at work, government should:

  • Develop a race equality strategy, focussed on the lived experiences of BME workers, which includes tough action to crack down on harassment and discrimination at work, online and in everyday life.
  • Legislate to make employers responsible for protecting their workers against racism by third parties, such as clients, contractors and customers.
  • Demonstrate that they take stopping racism at work seriously by abolishing fees for employment tribunals. These are a major barrier for BME workers facing discrimination at work.
  • Make sure the Equalities and Human Rights Commission has enough funding to promote workplace anti-racist policies and practice, and take more legal cases to make sure the law reflects the nature of contemporary racism.
  • Make private sector companies responsible for promoting equal treatment throughout their activities just as public sector organisations already are.

Download full report below.

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