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French corporations accused of racial discrimination against north-African job applicants

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FILE PHOTO: Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019  -  A Renault car is parked outside the French carmaker headquarters in Boulogne-Billancourt, outside Paris, France.
FILE PHOTO: Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019 - A Renault car is parked outside the French carmaker headquarters in Boulogne-Billancourt, outside Paris, France.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Christophe Ena
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A new study commissioned by the French government has "named and shamed" seven multinational companies, including hotel giant Accor and vehicle manufacturer Renault, for racial discrimination in employment.

The study found that candidates with Arabic-sounding names received on average 25% fewer responses to job applications than their competitors with French names.

But the seven companies — Air France, Accor, Altran, Arkéma, Renault, Rexel et Sopra Steria — say the methodology was flawed and deny any discriminatory practices in their recruitment.

What's in the study?

Junior Minister for Gender Equality Marlene Schiappa discussed the study's findings on French television.

"The government asked researchers to implement a scientific method, proven, reliable, sound, to send unsolicited applications to 40 companies listed in SBF 120 — so the largest French companies," she said.

"Some applications came with French-sounding names, while others had northern African-sounding names."

"And there are seven companies, out the 40 that were tested, with a strong suspicion of discrimination since applicants with northern African names received 25% fewer responses."

"And I'm going to tell you the names of these companies because there are no reasons not to. We need transparency in the results. There is Air France, there is Accor hotels, there is Altran, there is Arkéma, there is Renault, there is Rexel and there is Sopra Steria," Schiappa said.

Euronews has seen the study, which was published online on Friday.

It was conducted by researchers of the University of Creteil East between October 2018 and January 2018 and based on a sample of 10,349 fictional applications or requests for information.

A key conclusion is that discrimination does not only happen in those seven companies.

"Of all the companies tested, it is estimated that the success rate of the candidate whose name has a northern African consonance is 9.3%, compared to 12.5% for the candidate with a European-sounding name," the study found.

It is also worth noting that the study found one company — Air Liquide — practised reverse discrimination, with more positive responses sent to candidates with North African-sounding names.

'Flawed methodology'

The companies incriminated in the study immediately reacted to denounce a "flawed methodology" "leading to inaccurate conclusions."

In a statement seen by Euronews, Air France said: "These conclusions are based on the processing of 7 unsolicited applications sent to unidentified employees of the company outside the unique recruitment process used by Air France: the career website and its published offers through which all recruitments are channelled."

"Air France receives more than 100,000 applications on this website each year. They are all processed and receive a response. All recruitments are conducted by professionals trained in the prevention of discrimination," the statement said.

The researchers themselves acknowledged their methodological limitations in the study, noting that the majority of cases was based on unsolicited applications while most of these companies now used a centralized applicant tracking system.

The researchers also said that the tested positions (mainly hostesses and maintenance technicians) were not always in the core competences of the companies, which tended to let subcontractors handle these services.

'Naming and shaming'?

Critics say the government has been reluctant to "name and shame" the companies practising discrimination, even though it was a longtime promise of French President Emmanuel Macron.

France Inter public radio reported last month that a larger discrimination study involving 103 companies was "silenced" by the government.

Race campaign group Maison des Potes regretted that the publication of the report wasn't matched with strong policies to tackle discrimination.

The NGO requested the government to publicise its recommendations to the companies incriminated in the study.