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French activists pose as employers to expose racism

PARIS — French anti-racism activists who telephoned temporary employment agencies posing as a construction firm that wanted to hire only “European” workers say that more than one-third of the firms agreed to help with the discriminatory search.

SOS Racisme, a national association of anti-discrimination groups, released audio recordings Friday of some of the calls made in May to 69 Paris-region temp agencies.

During the calls, activists pretended to work for a fictitious construction firm seeking manual laborers for a building site. They explained they were seeking only laborers with “European profiles,” suggesting not people of color.

“If there’s absolutely no trace of this type of exchange, we can do what is necessary,” said a woman who answered one of the calls, according to the recordings.

An employee at another agency was recorded saying: “I’m making a note to myself so I can propose the profiles you want.”

“But I can’t say it will be this color or that community. That’s too complicated,” she added.

Discrimination on the basis of color, gender, nationality, sexual orientation or religious belief is illegal in France.

SOS Racisme said the 69 offices it called were all affiliates of France’s leading temp firms, with billions of dollars in combined revenues.

Head of SOS Racisme anti-racist NGO Dominique Sopo delivers a speech in front of signs and balls and chains as people gather in protest in front of the Valeurs Actuelles magazine’s headquarters in Paris on September 4, 2020.AFP via Getty Images

It said 55% of the branch offices it contacted refused requests to discriminate.

But 39% of those called agreed to weed people out on racial grounds, the campaign group said.

The remaining 6% also refused to racially select candidates but suggested that the fictitious firm do so itself, SOS Racisme said.

Although limited in scope to a small number of agencies, the findings highlight what anti-racism campaigners say is a wider problem of discrimination in some French workplaces.

Previous research has shown discrimination against job-seekers from neighborhoods with immigrant populations or with names that aren’t traditionally French.

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