Welcome to the first post in an ongoing series, A GLOBAL LOOK AT RACIAL EQUITY. This series — adapted from our featured insight GLOBAL DIMENSIONS OF RACE AND ETHNICITY — takes an in-depth look at social justice and equity issues on a country-by-country basis, with insight from Aperian Global’s experts.
Our first entry focuses on The United Kingdom.
Understanding the topic of race and ethnicity for major Western European nations requires knowledge of their prior colonial empires and subsequent legacy.
The empire of former Great Britain, for example, once spanned the globe (“The sun never sets on the British empire”) and comprised more than a quarter of the world’s population. Britain’s possessions included India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, South Africa, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Botswana, New Guinea, Hong Kong, Jamaica, Canada, Australia, and so on — the post-colonial Commonwealth alliance has more than fifty countries.
For centuries, Great Britain, following the examples of Portugal and Spain, was also one of the world’s largest contributors to the spread of slavery through its trading activities. It introduced enslaved Africans into its American colonies on the Eastern seaboard and in the Caribbean starting in the 1600s, and it’s East India Company held as many as 10 million people in bondage on the Indian subcontinent.
Slavery continued on a large scale in Britain’s colonial possessions abroad until the 1800s, although the number of enslaved Africans or Asians in the British Isles was relatively small. Anti-slavery movements resulted in a series of laws in the first half of the 1800s that began to curb this practice, even though it continued in various locations through illicit means. The Royal Navy actually created a West Africa Squadron that became a significant force in curbing trans-Atlantic traffic in slavery, capturing large numbers of ships and freeing their prisoners. Ironically, Great Britain was thus both a major contributor to the institution of slavery and an early supporter of its abolition.
Anti-slavery movements resulted in a series of laws in the first half of the 1800s that began to curb this practice, even though it continued in various locations through illicit means. The Royal Navy actually created a West Africa Squadron that became a significant force in curbing trans-Atlantic traffic in slavery, capturing large numbers of ships and freeing their prisoners. Ironically, Great Britain was thus both a major contributor to the institution of slavery and an early supporter of its abolition.
In the contemporary United Kingdom (encompassing England, Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland), a major hot-button issue tied to the country’s history is immigration. This issue encompasses racial and ethnic differences but is not primarily focused on inequities between blacks and whites, although these are now being more openly acknowledged.
In the wake of World War II, labor shortages led to policies that encouraged immigration from former British colonies. Immigrants arrived in large numbers from countries such as India, Pakistan, and later Bangladesh; others came from African nations, including South Africa and Nigeria. The entry of the U.K. into the European Communities (later the European Union) in 1973 also meant that job seekers could enter freely from other parts of Europe. Many Eastern Europeans, most notably from Poland, began to arrive as well, along with political refugees from the Middle East and elsewhere. Foreign-born residents now comprise approximately 14% of the U.K.’s population, the highest number in the country’s history. The largest minority immigrant groups are Asian (8%) and blacks (3%) from Africa or the Caribbean.
Current social issues such as “Brexit,” or withdrawal from the European Union, have been driven in part by anti-immigrant sentiment. Generational differences have also come into play with the U.K.’s aging population, along with cultural gaps between the cosmopolitan metropolis of London and more conservative rural areas.
Those favoring curbs on immigration express the view that new arrivals compete with native-born citizens for jobs while diluting traditional customs. A response from some immigrants themselves that points to the country’s colonial legacy has been, “We are here because you were there.”
Companies that seek to address race and ethnicity in the U.K. will need to take into account the multiracial, multiethnic issue of immigration, considering how to both ensure that foreign nationals and their descendants from any background are treated fairly, while other members of the workforce are not alienated or left behind. Policies suited to an aging workforce and gaps in opportunities and income between rural and urban residents will also likely be welcomed.
Roche, the Switzerland-based pharmaceutical firm, has won recognition as a top local employer through its focus on inclusion and its impact on long-term employee development and retention. It employs workers from 42 different nationalities in the U.K., with more than 50% female leadership, and four generations in the workforce. It has also made progress in employing both veterans and people with disabilities.
Greene, Richard Allen. “Britain’s Big Race Divide,” CNN.Com, June 2020, https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2020/06/europe/britain- racism-cnn-poll-gbr-intl/
Baptiste, Ashley-John “Racism in the UK: ‘I Feel Like an Alien’,” BBC, June 2020; https://www.bbc.com/news/av/uk-53002818/racism-in-the-uk-i-feel-like- an-alien
Faulconbridge, Guy. “UKIP in Chaos Over Racist Messages,” Reuters, January 2018; https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-britain-politics-ukip/ukip-in-chaos- over-racist-messages-idUKKBN1FB0SN?feedType=RSS
Smith-Spark, Laura, Nima Elbagir and Barbara Arvanitidis, “‘’The Greatest Trick Racism Ever Pulled Was Convincing England it Doesn’t Exist- How Britain Failed to Deal With Systemic Racism,” CNN.com, June 2020; https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/22/europe/black-britain-systemic-racism-cnn-poll-gbr-intl/ index.html
“Roche,” Best Companies, July 2020, https://www.b.co.uk/company-profile/?roche-104350 https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/business-reporter/ workplace-diversity/
Hicks, Rachel, interview with Adria Harris, UK human resources director, Roche, “Making the mix work: is your business diverse and inclusive?” The Telegraph, January 2020; https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/business-reporter/workplace-diversity/
“‘We are here because you were there’: Immigrants’ Responses to the Rise of Anti-Immigrant Discourses in Britain, University of Leicester, October 2014, https://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/sociology/research/conferences-and-workshops/2018201cwe-are-here-because-you-were-there201d- immigrants2019-responses-to-the-rise-of-anti-immigrant-discourses-in-britain