Reporting and the Politics of Difference: (Non)Disclosure on Ethnic Minorities

By Carol A Adams and Ken J McPhail

race discrimination shutterstock_328541087This article is based on two related research questions. First, what is the level of disclosure on ethnic minorities in the two sectors of the U.K. economy that historically have employed the most ethnic minorities: the banking and retail sectors? And secondly, what influences the (non)disclosure? It specifically investigates the level of disclosures from 1935 to 1998 and situates them within the changing social, political and economic context of this period. It is contended that the changing pattern of disclosure during this period can be understood with reference to changes in the political strategies for managing the threat of racism adopted by successive governments. The article provides some tentative theoretical reflections on the nature of the racism problematic and the way in which power may be seen to operate through (non)disclosure in this particular instance.

This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Carol A. Adams and Ken J. McPhail (2004) ‘Reporting and the Politics of Difference: (Non)Disclosure on Ethnic Minorities’, Abacus, Volume 40, Issue 3, pages 405–435 which has been published in final form at DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-6281.2004.00164.x This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving.

Over the past decade or so the burgeoning literature on corporate social disclosure has tended to focus on environmental reporting (Cowen et al., 1987; Patten, 1992; Roberts, 1992; Burritt and Welch, 1997) and, as yet, we know comparatively little about corporate disclosure on ethnic minorities[1].

The dearth of systematic studies in this area seems particularly surprising given the social and political significance of the issue of racism. Gilroy (1987) for example comments that racism is one of ‘the most political forces in Britain today’, a claim that is based on an awareness not only of the use of racialized categories in the subjugation of labour, but also in the way in which these categories function dialectically as a source of resistance.

This article attempts to address this lacuna within the literature and is based on two related research questions. First, what is the level of disclosure on ethnic minorities in the two sectors of the U.K. economy that historically have employed the most ethnic minorities: the banking and retail sectors (Dickens et al., 1988; Collinson et al., 1990; Jewson et al. , 1992)? And second, what influences the (non)disclosure?—and what might be inferred about the way power may be seen to operate through reporting in this particular instance? It is not the purpose of this article to specify what companies should report, but rather to examine the social, political and economic context to shed light on why they do or do not disclose.

What companies should report has been considered elsewhere. Adams and Harte (2000), for example, suggest that companies should disclose information on: corporate policies with respect to equal opportunities; the manner in which, and the extent to which, corporate policy has been achieved; the results of monitoring and targets for the employment of minority groups in various roles and positions within the organizational hierarchy; information concerning formal investigations, for example by statutory equal opportunities bodies, and court cases involving the organization on equal opportunity issues; and the involvement of workers and statutory authorities in the development of policy and monitoring of achievements.

Prior work which examines corporate social reporting over a longitudinal period includes Hogner (1982), Burchell et al. (1985), Tinker and Neimark (1987), Guthrie and Parker (1989), Arnold and Hammond (1994), Adams and Harte (1998), and Buhr (1998). Interestingly, these longitudinal studies are largely unsupportive of legitimacy theory which has been widely supported by researchers to explain social and environmental disclosures in studies examining reporting at a particular point in time (see, e.g., Patten, 1992; Deegan and Gordon, 1996; Hackston and Milne, 1996; Deegan and Rankin, 1997; and the special issue of the Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal in 2002 entitled ‘Social and Environmental Reporting and its Role in Maintaining or Creating Organizational Legitimacy’).

Longitudinal studies allow consideration of the changing social, political and economic context in which nondisclosure occurs (but see Buhr, 1998, and Hogner, 1982, both longitudinal studies which provide some support for legitimacy theory). Also notable is that few prior studies have tried to explain the lack of disclosure. Adams and Harte (1999) is an exception. Differences in findings based on the length of the study and the variables examined indicate the complexity of influences on corporate social disclosure and the inadequacies of current theorizing (see Adams, 2002). Longitudinal studies also differ in the extent to which they argue that companies are influenced by, or themselves influence, the social and/or political agenda. Burchell et al. (1985) demonstrate the heavy influence of the political agenda on the rise and fall of value added statements in company reports in the U.K. Arnold and Hammond (1994) found that information on the employment of Blacks in South Africa by signatories to the Sullivan Principles was used to influence the social and political climate consistent with corporate interest to provide a ‘moral rationalization for continuing business in South Africa in the face of a growing movement for divestment’ (p. 531). In analysing the role of women as portrayed in the corporate annual reports of General Motors from 1917 to 1976, Tinker and Neimark (1987) supported a Marxist political economy approach although Cooper and Puxty (1996) argued that the focus on the economic in their study was at the expense of the social. In examining (non)disclosures with respect to the employment of women over a fifty-nine-year period, Adams and Harte (1998), in contrast to Tinker and Neimark (1987), found that the influence of patriarchy was stronger than the influence of capitalism in determining women’s employment patterns and disclosure thereof. (Non)disclosure was particularly found to be influenced by the social and the political rather than the economic.

Within the critical literature, the development of the race issue in the U.K. during the period studied here has been viewed predominantly from a Marxist perspective. Since Cox (1970) proposed that the origin of racial prejudice was linked to the development of capitalism, the concept of racism has become increasingly central to contemporary Marxist critique and critical analysis in general (Miles, 2000). Although Cox (1970) specifically argued that racism is a bourgeois rationalization of capital’s exploitation and degradation of labour, critical interest in race now views the use of racialized categories not only as a mechanism in the subjugation of labour but also as a source of resistance. Gilroy (1987), for example, contends that racism is one of ‘the most political forces in Britain today’.

This longitudinal study examines (non)disclosure with respect to a specific type of social reporting, the employment of ethnic minorities, thereby allowing a detailed examination of the social, political and economic context of (non)disclosure. In doing so, the appropriateness of applying the prevailing Marxist analysis of racism to (non)disclosure is considered.

One further point of clarification may be helpful for readers. In the following discussion of ethnic minorities and the race problematic we use the term ‘Black’ as a historical, political and ideational signifier, rather than as descriptor of skin colour. Hall (2000, p. 149) appositely explains this usage: Black is not a question of pigmentation. The Black I am talking about is a historical category, a political category, a cultural category. In our language, at certain historical moments, we have to use the signifier. We have to create an equivalence between how people look and what their histories are. Their histories are in the past, inscribed in their skins. But it is not because of their skins that they are Black in their heads . . . Black was created as a political category in a certain historical moment. It was created as a consequence of certain symbolic and ideological struggles.


This work is based on an empirical analysis of the disclosures on ethnic minorities[2] made by large companies in the retail and banking sectors during the period 1935–98. Figure 1 shows the companies included in the sample, and the years for which we were able to obtain their corporate annual reports[3]. The selection of the banking and retail sectors drew on advice from researchers at the Commission for Racial Equality[4] and a review of pertinent empirical research studies which focused on specific sectors of the British economy (e.g., Dickens et al., 1988; Collinson et al., 1990; Jewson et al., 1992). It indicated that clerical and retail employment within these sectors have emerged as important sources of ethnic minority, as well as female, employment during last century. In order to create a research sample of manageable proportions, we focused on higher profile, higher employment, high street clearing banks and the multiple (non-food) retail sector. In the absence of adequate data on employment, firms were selected based on market capitalization. Drawing on two sectors (while admittedly biased), allowed the contrast between ethnic minority reporting practices in different parts of the economy. Firms were selected on the basis of current financial size as measured by stock market value at the time of selection. At that time the sample represented more than 70 per cent of the sectors.

Figure 1 – Periods for which corporate annual reports were available


Bank of Scotland 1935–98 except 1963

Barclays 1935–98

British Linen Bank 1935–67 except 1964 and 1966 Merged with the Bank of Scotland in 1969.

Clydesdale 1935–93 except 1944 and 1962

Lloyds/Lloyds TSB 1935–98 except 1994

Midland 1935–98

National Commercial Bank of Scotland 1958–68 Merged with the Royal Bank of Scotland in 1969.

National Provincial 1935–68 Merged with the Westminster in 1968 to become the National Westminster (hereafter Nat West).

Westminster/National Westminster 1935–98

Royal Bank of Scotland 1935–98

Retail sector

Boots 1935–98 except 1975

British Home Stores/Storehouse 1935–98 except 1950

Burton 1935–93 except 1935, 1941–47, 1953, 1964

Great Universal Stores 1935–98 except 1949

Marks and Spencer 1935–98

Sears 1935–98 except 1962 (No report in this year—company taken over)

W.H. Smith 1935–98 except 1935–47

Woolworths/Kingfisher 1935–98


Data for this longitudinal study were collected from annual reports using content analysis[5]. This technique has been used widely in determining the extent and nature of corporate social reporting (see, e.g., Guthrie, 1982; Guthrie and Mathews, 1985; Guthrie and Parker, 1990; Adams and Roberts, 1995; Adams, Hill et al. , 1995; Gray et al., 1995). The research instrument used was based on a model developed by Adams, Hill et al. (1995) and is a development of that used in Adams, Coutts et al. (1995).

Disclosures were drawn from the corporate annual report. Although the nature of corporate reporting has changed in recent years, particularly with the advent of the Internet, the corporate annual report was the main form of corporate communication throughout the period studied and, particularly in the case of quoted companies, is widely available. It is important to note here, that although companies in Britain are legally responsible for ensuring equality of opportunities (for some ‘minority’ groups, such as women, ethnic minorities and disabled people), they are not required to be publicly accountable for their equal opportunities policies, activities or outcomes with respect to ethnic minorities. Nor do they have to submit these data to any government body or agency, except in the event of a formal investigation by the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE)[6].

The period 1935–98 was chosen for a number of reasons. This period encompasses times of very different economic conditions, for example: the Second World War, the post-war boom and prosperity, labour shortages, and rising unemployment. Secondly, attitudes towards racism (as reflected in legislation and immigration policy) also changed perceptibly during this period. Immigration was first encouraged, then discouraged. While at the beginning of the period racial discrimination was both widespread and socially acceptable, towards the end of the period it was at least legally unacceptable (Sivanandan, 1976; Fryer, 1984; Wrench, 1989; Bowling, 1996; Pilkington, 1996; Real World Coalition, 1996). We contend that studying the social and political context in which corporate disclosure takes place can potentially assist in understanding corporate disclosure or nondisclosure on ethnic minorities. Archival research was therefore used to gather information about the population and the social, political and economic context.


An initial review of disclosures on ethnic minorities from 1935 to 1998 by the sampled companies is presented in Figure 2. It appears that disclosure and nondisclosure by these companies falls into three distinct periods. The remainder of this section explores the changing social, political and economic conditions across these three periods in an attempt to understand this pattern of (non)reporting and contribute to the literature on motivations for disclosure (see Hoogvelt and Tinker, 1978, and Tinker and Neimark, 1987, for other periodization studies). The periodization of the study is summarized below.

The first period extends from 1935 to 1975 and is characterized by a complete lack of ethnic minority reporting by the companies studied. It covers the Second World War, the 1945 to 1950 post-war Labour government, the 1950 to 1964 Conservative governments and period of post-war prosperity, and the Labour governments between 1964 and 1975. For most of this period there was what has been termed a colour blind (see Fine et al., 1997, and Jones and Novak, 1999) approach to Black employment; that is, a refusal to recognize and act on the different experiences of Black people in employment in the U.K. (see Wrench, 1989, and Bagilhole, 1997). Racism amongst white workers and in trade unions was widespread (see, e.g., Commission for Racial Equality [CRE], 1981; Fryer, 1984; Real World Coalition, 1996; Wrench, 1989).

The second period extends from 1976 to 1990. During this period references to race begin to appear in a minority of company annual reports. These disclosures generally take the form of equal opportunities policy statements. This period begins with the Race Relations Act of 1976, Labour governments followed, and 1979 saw the beginning of thirteen years of Thatcher Government. Just before the beginning of this period the racist attitudes of trade unions began to change, a process which gathered momentum in the face of increasing right wing racist rhetoric (see CRE, 1981; Fryer, 1984; Wrench, 1989).

Finally, the third eight-year period from 1991 to 1998 is characterized by a significant increase in disclosures on ethnic minorities. During this period the majority of sampled companies report on equal opportunities with a few disclosing information other than bland policy statements. In 1997 the election of Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’ Party brought to an end many years of Conservative government.

The remainder of this section attempts to locate the reporting practices outlined in Figure 2 within their social, political and economic context.

Figure 2 Summary of periodization

1935–75 _

1976 M&S

1977 M&S

1978 M&S

1979 M&S

1980 M&S

1981 M&S Nat West

1982 M&S


1984 Nat West

1985 Boots

1986 Nat Westa


1988 M&S, Woolworth Lloyds, Midlanda

1989 Boots, M&S, Woolworth Lloyds

1990 Boots, M&S, Woolworth, Lloyds

1991 Boots, M&S, Sears, W. H. Smith, Woolworth Barclaysa, Clydesdale, Lloyds, Midlanda, Nat Westa

1992 Bootsa, Sears, W. H. Smith, Woolworth Bank of Scotlanda, Barclays, Clydesdale, Lloyds, Nat West, Royal Bank of Scotland

1993 Bootsa, Burton, Sears, W. H. Smith, Woolworth Bank of Scotlanda, Clydesdale, Lloyds, Nat West, Royal Bank of Scotland

1994 Boots, Kingfisher, Sears, W. H. Smith Bank of Scotlanda, Barclaysa, Lloyds, Midlanda, Nat Westa, Royal Bank of Scotlanda

1995 Bootsa, Kingfisher, M&S, Sears, Storehouse, W. H. Smith

Bank of Scotlanda, Barclaysa, Lloyds TSBa, Nat Westa, Royal Bank of Scotland

1996 Boots, Kingfisher, Sears, W. H. Smitha Barclaysa, Lloyds TSB, Nat Westa, Royal Bank of Scotland

1997 Boots, Kingfisher, M&S, Sears, W. H. Smith Barclaysa, Lloyds TSBa, Nat Westa, Royal Bank of Scotland

1998 Bootsa, M&S, Kingfisher, Sears, W. H. Smith Barclaysa, Lloyds TSBa, Nat Westa, Royal Bank of Scotlanda

a Disclosure is more than just an equal opportunities policy statement.


Period one, 1935–1975: lack of reporting on ethnic minorities

The period from 1935 to 1975 failed to reveal any disclosures relating to ethnic minorities in either the banking or retail sector. This is despite there being a number of interesting features in this period with regard to both immigration and race relations. The lack of disclosure persisted despite significant socioeconomic changes and legislative developments (see Figure 3). In this section we delineate this context, then briefly discuss the lack of disclosures.

Figure 3 Equal opportunity disclosures which specifically mention race or ethnic origin, ethnic minority, population data and key events: Period One

1935–75 No disclosures in banking or retail sector

No. (proportion) of ethnic minorities in population a: 1951: less than 50,000; 1961: less than 500,000 (less than 1% of population); 1971: 1.25–1.5 million (between 2.3 and 2.8% of population)

Proportion of registered unemployed: 1948: 1.2%; 1959: 1.6%; 1964: 1.3%

Key events:

1948: British Nationality Act; first ships carrying immigrants from West Indies arrive;

1958: Notting Hill ‘white’ riots; Institution of Race Relations established;

1962 and 1968: Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1965: Race Relations Act, but did not cover employment;

1967: National Front formed (Bowling, 1996); 1968: Race Relations Act;

1971: Immigration Act; 1971: UN General Assembly designated ‘International Year to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination’;

1972: Asians expelled from Uganda, 27,000 of whom come to Britain

1973: National Front obtains 16.3% of votes in West Bromwich by-election

a Sources: Banton (1955); Great Britain Office for National Statistics (1965); Office of Population  Censuses and Surveys (1981); Peach and Winchester (1974).


In the period of severe economic depression between the two World Wars, Black people, like women, were regarded as inferior and the preferences of white workers and trade unions not to work with them resulted in sackings and blatant discrimination (see Fryer, 1984). In the aftermath of the Second World War, many people from the colonies were actively encouraged to come to the U.K. to redress labour shortages. Figure 4 indicates that while the British Nationality Act 1948 encouraged people from the Commonwealth to enter Britain, the legislation thereafter became more restrictive. Despite labour shortages, demands for restrictions to the employment of Black people by white workers and trade unions continued throughout our first period and were widespread (Wrench, 1989). Thus, throughout this period, the economic wellbeing of an individual was significantly influenced by the hatred engendered towards Black people. Consider the 1958 ‘white’ riots in Notting Hill where many Blacks lived in overcrowded conditions. Bowling (1996) and Pilkington (1996) describe in some detail the actions of whites who allegedly started the violence. Their accounts make grim reading. It is clear from these sources and eyewitness accounts quoted in them that the main source of the white hatred was the difference in both lifestyle and physical appearance of Blacks. At this time of high levels of employment and labour shortages in some sectors, there was no real threat to the jobs of whites.

The Government’s response, however, as seen in the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962 (see Figure 4), was to restrict the numbers of Black people entering the U.K. and this could be seen as an attempt to appease the racist element in the U.K. at that time.

Net immigration in the 1950s and 1960s diminished in the 1970s and was related to levels of unemployment. Peach (1982) clearly demonstrates, for example, that West Indian migration was inversely correlated with unemployment. According to Brown (1984), immigration was highly concentrated geographically, industrially and occupationally[7].

Thus the labour supply during 1960s and 1970s was met both by the large-scale immigration of people from the New Commonwealth and Indian-Pakistani region and the increasing return of married women to the labour market. Sivanandan (1976) contends that the combination of ‘laissez-faire immigration and laissez-faire discrimination’ following the Second World War led to severe social problems. The riots of 1958 and the growing militancy of a Black underclass were taking on political proportions that the government, irrespective of party, could not ignore.

Figure 4 British immigration legislation, 1935–1975

British Nationality Act 1948: British passport holders from throughout the Commonwealth given the right to enter Britain freely with their families and live and work in the U.K.

Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962: Limited the right of Commonwealth people with British passports. Immigrants had to obtain an employment voucher before they came.

Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968: Immigration to Britain was restricted to those people from the Commonwealth who could prove their parents or grandparents were born in the U.K.

Immigration Act 1971: Only people born in Britain or whose parents were born in Britain had a right to live in the U.K. Others had to obtain a work permit. Male work permit holders could bring their wives and children to the U.K., but female work permit holders could not bring their husbands and children.

Source: Page and Newman (1985).


No doubt concerned by race riots in the United States (see Jenkins and Solomos, 1989), the government continued to try to integrate immigrant communities through new legislation, in particular the Race Relations Acts and the Equal Pay Act of 1970 which was concerned with pay differentials between women and men. Overall it would seem that during this period the government attempted to maintain control in the face of social unrest by passing legislation.

However, the 1965 and 1968 Race Relations Acts have been criticized for being primarily concerned with making symbolic gestures towards anti-discriminatory principles, but paying little attention as to how such principles should be implemented in practice (see, e.g., Wainwright, 1979; Sivanandan, 1982; Solomos, 1989). These Acts were presented as promoting good race relations through the legal prohibitions on discrimination at the same time that regulation of ethnic minority immigration was becoming increasingly restrictive (Solomos, 1989). The 1965 Act did not cover employment, one of the main arenas in which discrimination took place, and while this was remedied by the 1968 Act, enforcement powers were still lacking. This omission led Wainwright (1979) to describe the act as procedurally ineffective. The 1968 Act was also criticized for its concentration on individual (as opposed to structural) forms of discrimination and the lack of resources for implementing the law fully.

A gap existed between policy and practice. This was pointed out by numerous government and academic studies during the late 1960s and early 1970s (see Solomos, 1989, and Lea, 1990). There remained significant differences between Black and white people in the types of work carried out, pay and levels of unemployment. Empirical research indicated that high levels of discrimination persisted and this was taken to imply that the efforts of the Race Relations Board, which together with the Community Relations Commission was set up by the 1968 Act, had produced little or no change (Smith, 1979). Civil disturbances were exacerbated by the lack of trust and frustration that grew from the gap between policy and practice.

As well as being influenced by specific problems in the U.K., the government also came under pressure from developments in the United Nations. In 1969, for example, the United Nations General Assembly designated 1971 the ‘International Year to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination’. This was developed into the ‘Decade for Action to combat Racism and Racial Discrimination’, commencing in 1973[8].

However, despite these international developments, the International Labour Organization Convention III on Discrimination in Employment and Occupation of 1958 was not ratified in the U.K. (see Forbes and Mead, 1992). The underlying philosophy behind equal opportunities policy developments in the U.K. during this period was based on what has been called a ‘colour-blind approach’, a policy which gave equal access and equal treatment but failed to recognize the historical and contemporary reality of ethnic minority groups’ experiences or to acknowledge their different needs. The approach rested on the premise that to treat Black workers as different was to discriminate against the white population and was echoed by trade unions in the 1950s and 1960s (see Wrench, 1989).

There are a number of important observations that we can take from this first period. First there appears to be a strong historical link in the U.K. between immigration and economic expediency. In particular, the immigration policy during this period seems to be closely linked to the market demand for labour. Labour shortages were of particular concern in banking which, like the rest of the service sector, grew rapidly during this period (see Adams and Harte, 1998). Secondly, it would seem that the influx of ethnic minorities into the U.K. in order to meet these labour shortages contributed towards race riots early in the period. There seems to be a link between the immigration and equal opportunities policies that emerged during this period and these instances of social unrest. Yet while immigration was linked to labour shortages it would seem that little real consideration was given to equal opportunities in employment and the legislation that did emerge was criticized for its lack of substance and enforcement powers. Finally, it is important to point out that these policies did not take into consideration the structural disadvantage of ethnic minorities. Given the social and political context during this period, it would have been surprising to find disclosures on equal opportunities despite the immigration policies related to economic requirements, racial discrimination and riots.

Period two, 1976–1990: disclosure begins

This period is characterized by some disclosure by a minority of companies of equal opportunities policies specifically mentioning race and/or ethnic minorities. The period begins in the year after the publication of The Corporate Report (Accounting Standards Steering Committee, 1975) in the U.K. While recommending that companies produce employment reports disclosing the age distribution and sex of employees, it remained silent on ethnic minorities. During this period some limited references to race and ethnic origin in equal opportunities policy statements are evident (Figure 5). Marks and Spencer were the first to make any relevant disclosures by including reference to colour and race in their (albeit very brief) policy statements of 1976–82. They stopped doing this between 1983 and 1987, commencing again in 1988. Campbell (2000) in his longitudinal study of social disclosure at Marks and Spencer argued ‘that marginal variability of disclosure can be explained by the varying perceptions of reality of successive Chairmen’ (p. 80). This does not, however, appear to have been a factor in disclosure on ethnic minority employment which began part way through Lord Sieff’s chairship (1973–85), finished before the end of his term of office and then recommenced part way through Lord Raynor’s chairship (1985–91).

Figure 5 Equal opportunity disclosures which specifically mention race or ethnic origin, ethnic minority population data and key events: period two

Date, Companies disclosing, Population data and Key events

1976 M&S Race Relations Act creating Commission for Racial Equality

1977 M&S

1978 M&S

1979 M&S Southall: National Front allowed to meet in town where vast majority of population was Asian; very heavy police presence; force used. Anti-racist activist murdered

1980 M&S 2.2 million (4.1%) Black people in population (OPCS, 1981). In the year to August 1980, unemployed Black workers rose by 48% as against 38% of total unemployed (Home Office, 1982). Riots in St Paul’s, Bristol

1981 M&S Nat West Unemployment in 16–29 age group was 15.7% for white males and 36.7% for Black males (Labour Force Survey, 1981). The percentage total unemployed in the population was 8.2% (Central Office of Information, 1993). Brixton and other riots. Scarman report (Scarman, 1981)

1982 M&S


1984 Nat West Policy Studies Institute (1984) published findings that the median wage for white men (women) was £20 (£4) higher than for West Indians and £18 (£3) higher than for Asians.

1985 Boots Riots in Tottenham, Brixton and Toxteth

1986 Nat West a


1988 M&S, Woolworth Lloyds, Midland a, Average % of ethnic minority persons in employment in 1987–89 was 4.7%. Average unemployment rates for the same period were 9% for whites and 14% for ethnic minorities. b

1989 Boots, M&S, Woolworth, Lloyds, Midland a

1990 Boots, M&S, Woolworth, Lloyds The percentage total unemployed in the population was 8.1%

(Central Office of Information, 1993). British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act 1990; ‘exceptionalist’ legislation to grant full British citizenship status to 50,000 heads of households in Hong Kong (Jowett

et al. , 1995)

a Disclosure is more than just an equal opportunities policy statement.

b Employment Gazette (1991).


Of the banks disclosing during this period, the Nat West was the first to mention race in its equal opportunities policy statement in 1981. However, they made only three equal opportunities disclosures in total during this period. The Midland first mentioned ethnic minorities in 1988 and Lloyds also referred to race and colour in its 1988 equal opportunities policy statement. The only disclosures other than these very bland and brief policy statements in this entire period were a reference by the Nat West to ethnic monitoring in 1986 (see below) and two brief references by the Midland. The first in 1988 was to the appointment of an equal opportunities director. Midland explain that this appointment was designed ‘to ensure that the potential of women in the group is fully realized, and that our recruitment and subsequent treatment of people from all sections of the community, including ethnic minorities and the disabled, are even-handed’. This statement does, however, appear to be more specifically related to the position of women within the company. The second disclosure in 1989, however, is more directly related to ethnic minorities. The company stated: ‘In 1989, the Group launched CAMPUS, a university scholarship scheme. It was introduced particularly for women and employees from ethnic minorities who have not hitherto had the opportunity to attend university. The programme aims to bring its participants quickly to a level where they can be considered for management opportunities.’

Although there was no significant change in the level of ethnic minority population in Great Britain during the 1980s, Figure 6 reveals that two new pieces of regulation were implemented during this period.

Figure 6 Race and immigration legislation, 1976–1990

Race Relations Act, 1976: Formed Commission for Racial Equality and attempted to deal with institutionalized racism and unintended forms of discrimination. Incorporated a procedure for complaints to be handled by Industrial Tribunals.

British Nationality Act, 1981: Revised the Immigration Act of 1971 as regards the right of abode in the U.K. This Act set out different types of British citizenship and nationality. Not all of them gave a person the right to live and work in Britain.


The Race Relations Act of 1976 represented ‘a strengthening and extension of existing anti-discrimination policy rather than a new and unfamiliar policy’ (Nixon, 1982, p. 366). The most important developments were, first, an extension of the objectives of the law to cover systemic as well as intentional discrimination.

The Act defined ‘indirect’ forms of racism and rendered such forms of discrimination illegal. Second, it re-organized the Race Relations Board and the Community Relations Commission into a joint state agency that would be known as the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) (see Blakemore and Drake, 1996, for a discussion of its powers). Third, a new procedure for handling individual complaints of discrimination was introduced. Employment cases were to be handled directly by industrial tribunals rather than processed through a body like the Race Relations Board. The CRE was charged with the formulation and issuing of codes of practice aimed at eliminating discrimination. These codes were not, however, approved by ministers until well into the 1980s. Though the government had promised an ‘effective race relations policy’, like its predecessors, the 1976 Act was widely criticized for having little or no substantive impact on discriminatory practices in employment (see, e.g., Karn, 1997; Rose, 1990).

Prior and subsequent to the election of Margaret Thatcher’s Government in 1979, the late 1970s and early 1980s witnessed a significant intensification in the issue of race. As Cheung-Judge and Henley (1994, p. 3) contend, ‘within a decade, the idea of equal opportunities changed from a sleepy ideological abstraction to a controversial and high-profile fact of life’. This was a direct result of the surge in unemployment in the U.K. at the beginning of the 1980s and the related social unrest (see Figure 5). As leader of the opposition in the late 1970s, Margaret Thatcher spoke out in favour of an end to immigration, arguably in a direct response to the perceived escalating fears of the white majority (see Bowling, 1996). By 1980 unemployment rose to two million for the first time since 1938, spiralling to three million by 1982. Unemployment amongst ethnic minorities was disproportionate to the rest of the indigenous white population and discrimination in employment experienced by Black workers increased as the economic depression intensified (see Rhodes and Brahams, 1989). Yet there was a widely held perception that immigrants had contributed to the unemployment amongst white British citizens and this fuelled unrest. The events in Southall in 1979 indicated that the equal opportunities legislation developed in response to the social disorders of the late 1950s was no longer tenable. The urban disorders of 1980, 1981 and 1985 added weight to the growing view that notions of colour blindness were deficient (see Bagilhole, 1997). The government response to the events in Southall and the Scarman Report of 1981 following the Brixton riots of 1981 was widely claimed to be wholly inadequate (see, e.g., Benyon, 1984; Solomos, 1989; Bowling, 1996).

There was considerable mistrust of the police by ethnic minorities and the existence of bodies like the Southall (Police) Monitoring Group[9] reflected fears that racism within the force had become institutionalized.

The government’s anxiety subsequent to those urban disorders was intensified by an appreciation that the political left saw these events as evidence of the revolutionary potential of racialized minorities (Jewson, 1990). Instead of simply promoting solidarity with the working class, alternative sources of collective identities were being recognised as important. These included women, ethnic minorities and disabled people and this was reflected in policies adopted by a number of Labour-controlled local authorities. Central (Conservative) government attacks on the power of local authorities came in response to the priority which local authorities gave to equal opportunities issues (Bagilhole, 1997). It may also be significant that Black organizations such as the Indian Workers’ Association, the Black Workers’ Rights Committee and the Black Trade Unionists’ Solidarity Movement were beginning to engage with trade unions in an endeavour to find commonalties and change attitudes, although examples of racism within the trade union movement could still be found (see, e.g., CRE, 1981).

The response of the political right at the time is clearly expressed in Enoch Powell’s claim that ‘the market economy . . . is the most effective enemy of discrimination between individuals, classes and races’ (Foot, 1969, p. 129). There was a renewed emphasis on British nationalism and the claim that Britain was being swamped by ethnic minorities (Bagilhole, 1997) and the very necessity for bodies like the CRE and Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) was questioned by sources close to the government. There was also entrenched resistance by government against the implementation of equal value amendments to the Equal Pay Act in the wake of initiatives emanating from the European Community (Bagilhole, 1997).

Smith (1979) provides some insights into some corporate attitudes during this time. He found that employers did not think there was a need for equal opportunities reporting because they believed the white majority did not perceive a problem of discrimination in the workforce. Smith (1979), however, argues that: ‘the assumption that there is no discrimination is unjustified; the suggestion that racial questions do not lead to management difficulties evades the issue which is whether unfair treatment has been prevented irrespective of whether the victims of such treatment would cause trouble from the management point of view’. In summarizing his results, Smith states that managers he interviewed lacked general awareness and understanding of law, tended not to think analytically about their recruitment and promotion procedure, and because of this they often avoid facing up to the implications of what they are doing.

Despite Smith’s findings, we did identify some disclosure on ethnic minorities during this period. Drawing from other works, there may have been a number of reasons why companies started to develop equal opportunities policies for ethnic minorities during this period. All of these possibilities may be related to the general increase in social awareness of racism subsequent to the social unrest of the 1980s. First, they may have developed in an attempt to pre-empt legal disputes (Jenkins, 1986, 1989). Such a motive is apparent from policies which take a legalistic form and identify minimum lawful behaviour by managers (see Jewson et al., 1992). Second, the research suggests that they may have been developed in order to improve perceptions of the organization, either among its employees, its customers or lenders (Jenkins, 1986, 1989). This would include organizations wanting to preserve a reputation for good employment practice whose policies went beyond the legally required minimum (see Jewson et al., 1992; Jewson and Mason, 1993). Finally, existing research suggests they may have been developed as a direct response to a ‘race’ problem within the company, such as an unfavourable Industrial or Employment Appeal Tribunal decision, a ‘race’-related industrial relations problem or pressure from local community groups or the CRE (see Jenkins, 1986, 1989; Jewson, 1990; Jewson et al., 1992; Jewson and Mason, 1993). While many of these reasons, can be categorized as ‘defensive or reactive’ strategies (Jenkins, 1986), companies were becoming increasingly proactive in protecting their reputation and Jewson and Mason (1993) point out that some companies were beginning to appreciate the commercial benefits of having an equal opportunities policy (see Adams and Harte, 1998; Porter, 1985). The Midland Bank, for example, specifically referred to the clear commercial benefits to be gained from making the fullest possible use of all its staff resources in connection with being an equal opportunity employer in its 1985 corporate annual report. However, the existence of a policy in itself was obviously not sufficient to ensure action and outcomes (see Jewson and Mason, 1989) and this led to the development of ethnic monitoring practices.

Jewson and Mason (1993) contend that there were some (anonymous) companies well known in the 1960s and 1970s for policy innovations based on more general principles of equality. However, in our sample, reporting on such developments occurred much later and appears to have been motivated by the CRE’s concerns that good head office company policy statements were not always being translated into procedures and results at branch level. For example, after the Code of Practice came into effect in April 1984, the Commission approached thirty of the largest private sector employers in the U.K. They contacted, for example, Halifax Building Society, the four clearing banks and W. H. Smith to identify the steps that were being taken to meet the recommendations in the code and, where possible, to advise and assist. Also, by 1984 many of the largest high street retail chains had started to monitor recruitment, following the lead set by companies such as Littlewoods and Marks and Spencer. Several companies were also starting to review their promotion procedures (CRE Annual Report, 1984). The clearing banks, including Nat West, Barclays and Midland, began ethnic monitoring in 1985. These banks circulated detailed guidance on their equal opportunities policies to staff and since January 1985 all job applicants have been asked to record their ethnic origins. The Royal Bank of Scotland had incorporated an ethnic origin question into its application form and the Halifax Building Society also began to obtain information on ethnic origin from both its existing staff and new applicants. In the retail sector, Safeway Food Stores, for example, started monitoring to make sure its race relations policy was effective. Finefare, W. H. Smith and the British Shoe Corporation were also working towards setting up monitoring systems (CRE Annual Report, 1985).

Many of these initiatives, however, do not appear in the companies’ annual reports. In fact, the first mention of ethnic monitoring by our sample companies was the only mention in this period up to 1990. It was made by the Nat West in the director’s report in their 1986 annual report: ‘In line with the Commission for Racial Equality’s Code of Practice, the bank carried out an exercise whereby all staff were invited to participate in the identification of an approved ethnic category. The information so obtained will assist the Bank to monitor the effectiveness of its equal opportunities polices to ensure the objectives are being achieved.’

The lack of reporting prior to 1986 concerning ethnic monitoring may reflect Hitner et al.’s (1982) findings regarding lack of management commitment to these kinds of programs. Their study found such initiatives to be very few in number. Those that were found went little beyond formal statements of intent and were not systematically incorporated into day-to-day practice. In many cases this lack of incorporation reflected their reactive character and often led to further managerial problems (Hitner et al., 1982). Moreover, there was a tendency to see discrimination as a product of the behaviour of prejudiced individuals. There was little appreciation of the existence of systematic and structural disadvantage and discrimination.

During this second period Littlewoods, Nat West and NorWest Gas started a one-year ‘Access to Business’ course for Black candidates without academic qualifications that included a twelve week work experience placement. The CRE also worked with Woolworths on a survey of branches to examine recruitment in new selection and in equal opportunities training (CRE Annual Report, 1986). Yet, like other companies in the sample, the annual reports of the Nat West and Woolworths were silent about these developments.

In conclusion, the second period from 1976 to 1990 witnessed some significant developments in equal opportunities as well as limited increases in reporting. During the period increased levels of unemployment accentuated racial tensions. Although the government’s main policy for dealing with this social unrest involved passing new legislation, the CRE did begin to work more closely with business in attempting to combat racial inequality. It would seem more than accidental that the first reporting on ethnic minorities coincides with the passing of the 1976 Race Relations Act, growing civil unrest and a shift in perspective away from ‘colour blindness’ (Bagilhole, 1997). The election of Margaret Thatcher as prime minister in 1979 and the major shift in ideology and economic policy which this represented is a significant factor in understanding the increased involvement of business in the management of racial tension (see, e.g., Miller and Rose 1991; Ezzamel and Willmott 1993; Humphrey et al. 1993). However, at this stage the managerialist discourse emerging around this issue was not sufficiently developed for companies to report to the market on the policies they had implemented.

Period three, 1991–1998: Significantly increased disclosure

During this period, the majority of companies reported in each year with a number making disclosures other than policy statements. It is characterized by two developments. First, there was an increase in the number of large firms adopting equal opportunities polices. And second, there was a significant increase in the volume of disclosures on policy statements in corporate annual reports, along with some reporting on efforts to improve opportunities for ethnic minorities, and outcomes of the monitoring process (see Figure 7). From these disclosures it is apparent that some managers construed the issue in terms of potential commercial benefits for their company.

Figure 7 Equal opportunity disclosures which specifically mention race or ethnic origin, ethnic minority population data and key events: period three

Date, Disclosing companies, Population data, Key events

1991 Boots, M&S, Sears, W. H. Smith, Woolworth, Barclaysa, Clydesdale, Lloyds, Midlanda, Nat WestOf the working population 4.3% of women and 4.6% of men were from ethnic minorities compared with 5.7% and 5.3% of working age ethnic minorities in the population (Owen, 1997).

1992 Bootsa, Sears, W. H. Smith, Woolworth, Bank of Scotlanda, Barclays, Clydesdale, Lloyds, Nat West, Royal Bank of Scotland

1993 Bootsa, Burton, Sears, W. H. Smith, Woolworth Bank of Scotlanda, Clydesdale, Lloyds, Nat West, Royal Bank of Scotland

1994 Boots, Kingfisher, Sears, W. H. Smith Bank of Scotlanda, Barclaysa, Lloyds, Midlanda, Nat Westa, Royal Bank of Scotlanda

1995 Bootsa, Kingfisher, M&S, Sears, Storehouse, W. H. Smith, Bank of Scotlanda, Barclaysa, Lloyds TSBa, Nat Westa, Royal Bank of Scotland. Race for Opportunity campaign

1996 Boots, Kingfisher, Sears, W. H. Smitha, Barclaysa, Lloyds TSB, Nat Westa, Royal Bank of Scotland

1997 Boots, Kingfisher, M&S, Sears, W. H. Smith Barclaysa, Lloyds TSBa, Nat Westa, Royal Bank of Scotland Labour government elected

1998 Bootsa, M&S, Kingfisher, W. H. Smith, Searsa Barclaysa, Lloyds TSBa, Nat Westa, Royal Bank of Scotlanda

a Disclosure is more than just an equal opportunities policy statement


The 1990s witnessed significant development in the relationship between the CRE and private sector companies. In 1990, at a time of labour shortages and recruitment difficulties in the retail sector, the CRE continued to monitor and assist major companies in developing and implementing equal opportunities initiatives and policies. Notwithstanding the government’s attempts in the 1980s to ‘roll back the state’, the early 1990s witnessed a Conservative minister of employment vigorously endorsing the principles of equal opportunities policy. At a more fundamental level, growing support for equal opportunities policies from all the major political parties might be seen as one aspect of a broader change or evolution in the relationship between State and economy in Britain. As government ‘rolled back the state’, more and more areas of economic and social life were subject to market forces or privatization (see, e.g., Miller and Rose, 1991; Ezzamel and Willmott, 1993; Humphrey et al., 1993). In one sense this did involve less state intervention. However, the faith in free-market economics simultaneously drew government into the formulation and implementation of frameworks of regulation and control monitored by specialized state agencies like the CRE (Veljanovski, 1991). The 1990s were characterized by an increasing degree of cooperation between both private and public sector companies and the CRE in developing equal opportunities policies and programs. Top level meetings were held with W. H. Smith, Boots, Sainsbury’s and British Gas, all of whom agreed to work more closely with the commission.

In April 1991, a CRE member of staff was seconded to Boots for six months to help the company increase the effectiveness of their equal opportunity policy. A senior manager at Boots was also seconded to the commission in 1991. Boots state in their 1992 director’s report: ‘In 1991 we introduced ethnic monitoring to enable us to understand the profile of our employees and to plan appropriate action. We have worked closely with the Commission for Racial Equality with a senior secondee from that organization to help us in our task.’ Boots was one of the more active companies during this period; however, their commitment may be partially due to the fact that Boots chair, Sir James Blyth, was also chair of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Panel on the Citizen’s Charter. The personnel director and the managing director, who had previously served as a personnel director, were also on the board.

None of the other retail companies in our sample mentions ethnic monitoring and only two companies, Barclays and Nat West, report the outcome of their monitoring. Nat West’s 1994–96 annual reports disclose that 2 per cent of the bank’s management team are ethnic minority employees. This compares with 1991 census figures of 5.7 per cent and 5.3 per cent ethnic minority men and women respectively in the working age population (Owen, 1997). By 1997 the percentage in the bank’s management team had increased to 2.5 per cent and by 1998 to 3 per cent. The 1991 annual report of Barclays included a bar chart showing the percentage of ethnic minority staff across six grades in both 1988 and 1991 showing modest improvements across all but the lowest grade. They stated: ‘In the U.K. approximately 5% of the working population comes from ethnic minority groups and, whilst in general this is reflected in the Group’s staff, monitoring of recruitment and career progression will be a key factor in policy development’. In its 1991 report the CRE notes that it assisted in the implementation of equal opportunities policies by retail employers through a series of seminars in which ASDA made a leading contribution.

The banking sector also saw some positive developments despite the recession. The Midland Bank launched a positive action scheme: the Midland Fellowship Programme, for ethnic minority undergraduate students. This was to provide quality paid work experience over six to eight weeks during the summer vacation for up to thirty placements. While this training course for ethnic minority students was not mentioned in their accounts, the chief executive’s statement in the 1991 report did mention a training course aimed at ensuring its staff better understood the needs of its ethnic minority customers. They stated: ‘there are areas of the country that have a very strong ethnic minority presence in the business community. Working closely with the Ethnic Minority Business Development Team, a Home Office initiative, a training programme has been created to ensure that Midland staff better understand the needs of the people concerned.’

In May 1991 the TSB launched a new Equal Opportunities program. The Nat West also set up an internal Ethnic Minority Advisory Group and introduced a cultural awareness training program for its training staff. Lloyds Bank also consulted the CRE on a review of its recruitment policy (CRE Annual Report, 1991). However, none of the banks mentioned these initiatives in their reports, although Lloyds did briefly mention its support for the Race for Opportunity campaign aimed at improving opportunities for ethnic minorities in its 1995, 1997 and 1998 reports. Barclays also mentions support for Race for Opportunity in its 1998 report. They say, ‘the Group . . . supports . . . the “Race for Opportunity” campaign which encourages businesses to invest in the diversity of Britain’s ethnic minority communities’ (p. 79). The Race for Opportunity campaign organized by Business in the Community was launched in 1995 following research and consultation with businesses, ethnic minority groups and public sector organizations (see Bann, 1998). It stresses the mutual benefits to the economy and ethnic minority groups of businesses ‘investing’ in diversity. Companies which sign up to the campaign commit not only to adopting a policy, but also to detailing how it will be actioned and to evaluating progress and reporting annually on results.

Given the continuing recession, it seems that the emphasis for the banking sector was on achieving good employment practices. During the year, progress meetings were held by the CRE with five major High Street banks. The Nat West agreed to set targets for the recruitment and promotion of ethnic minority staff and publish ethnic origin data in its annual report. It made a training video explaining target setting and positive action to staff, introduced diversity training for managers and ran self-development courses for women in lower grades. The TSB Group reported to the CRE an increase in ethnic minority employment from 2.4 per cent in 1990/91 to 2.7 per cent in 1991/92 although the company did not disclose these figures in their annual report. It set an objective of increasing this to 3.2 per cent by 1994.

Midlands, Barclays and TSB also participated in a forum for an exchange of views on joint work to maximize the benefits of equal opportunities programs. In Scotland the second Access to Banking Course was successfully implemented, resulting in ten ethnic minority trainees securing jobs in June 1992 with the four sponsoring banks (CRE Annual Report, 1992). The Bank of Scotland and the Royal Bank of Scotland made passing references to these initiatives in their 1994 annual reports.

During 1992 Safeway, Marks and Spencer, Debenham and Tesco received assistance from the CRE in implementing equal opportunity policies. At corporate level, the CRE held meetings with W. H. Smith and J. Sainsbury. The CRE report notes that several employers made encouraging progress in implementing their racial equality programs through staff training, recording ethnic origin of employees and applicants, analysing data, setting targets and taking positive action to attract and train ethnic minority personnel. For example, Littlewoods ran positive action training for management trainees. The company went further and took a significant step of requiring its suppliers to conform to this policy. B&Q took part in a similar positive action scheme. Tesco set up a Directors Equal Opportunity Group. Marks and Spencer also received assistance from the CRE; however, they make no reference to this in their annual reports. W. H. Smith also simply states in its 1996 report: ‘The Group has worked with the Commission for Racial Equality and the Equal Opportunities Commission to ensure that its practices are of the highest standard’. Boots is the only retail company in our sample to explicitly mention support for Race for Opportunity, doing so in its 1998 annual report. They say: ‘Boots has maintained its active involvement in Race for Opportunity, developing and sharing good practice at national and local level. It has held seminars for East Midlands employers on employment and purchasing and provided practical and financial support for the first East Midlands Trade Fair for Ethnic Minority Businesses.’

From the examples mentioned in this section, it seems that this third period of analysis is characterized by an apparent shift in management attitude towards equal opportunities reporting despite the fact that companies did not always seem to communicate their apparent commitment to equal opportunities through their annual reports. The indifference that Smith (1979) found would appear to have been replaced by a more active engagement with equal opportunities issues. However, despite noting this progress, the CRE 1992 Annual Report concluded that ‘it was clear that in the retail sector in general the gap between policy and local practice remained wide’.

In telephone interviews researchers at the CRE in London and Edinburgh told us that they questioned both the commitment and the motives of employers. Where there was a reasonable level of commitment they felt it came from a belief that ‘diversity strategies’, as human resource people were calling them, were good for business (see also Kandola et al., 1995). When asked their views on why the banks and other companies did not report, they said they felt it was because they did not want to be held accountable and that there was also an element of embarrassment and concern about adverse reaction from shareholders and white staff. The main reason for the increase in reporting during this period therefore seems to have come from the CRE’s proactive attempts to get companies to engage with equal opportunities.

Amos and Ouseley (1994) argued that the 1990s have been characterized as the decade of equal opportunities in Britain. Indeed, the 1990s was a period in which a growing number of large firms, working with the EOC and CRE, elected to introduce or further develop formal equal opportunities programs. These were different in character to earlier ad hoc responses to the perceived special needs of ethnic minorities. They comprised written documents incorporating a variety of rules and regulations concerning employment relationships. In many cases they entailed a review of the entire recruitment and promotion process within the organization. The most elaborate examples included not only statements of intent, but also detailed instructions as to how these were to be translated into practice. Some endorsed ethnic monitoring and a few even began to set targets.

Although the numbers of companies involved in these activities was relatively small, they do represent a significant group of large multinationals. Yet despite these apparent developments, it would seem that the increased involvement with the CRE and the consequent growth in equal opportunities reporting is related to attempts by the state to manage racism. While this strategy may entail very real benefits for ethnic minorities, it may ultimately lead to the depoliticization of the race issue and a reduced possibility of substantive change.

Bagilhole (1997) notes that increasingly in the 1990s, a business case was presented for equal opportunities. She argues that this case rested on two premises. First, that both private and public sectors of the economy were underutilizing the full opportunities for some (minority) groups in society. And second, that organizations could increase their efficiency and effectiveness by projecting a more pluralistic self-image that would appeal to a wider pool of potential customers. Joanna Foster, chair of the EOC, for example, linked equal opportunities in the1990s with economic efficiency and social justice (see Ross and Schneider, 1992). Virginia Bottomley, who was Minister of State for Health at the time, communicated a similar perspective when launching a nationwide equal opportunities program for ethnic minority staff in the National Health Service. She stated: ‘I want to stress that taking action to promote equality in employment is not just a matter of moral justice or of fairness to people from minority ethnic groups, it is good, sound common sense, and it makes business sense too. Otherwise the NHS will lose the benefit of their skills’ (India Mail, 14–20 December 1993, in Bagilhole, 1997, p. 57). This managerialist reorientation of equal opportunities represents a significant shift in approach to managing the problem of race over the period in our study, a shift that has contributed towards the depoliticization of the race issue. This shift from legislation to the rhetoric of managerialism, we contend, has gone some way towards reducing the disruptive potential posed by racism (Young, 1990; Bagilhole, 1997). By translating equal opportunities into the economic language of managerialism and establishing action based on a corresponding set of administrative procedures there is a danger of losing perspective on the fundamental political and ideological issues which equal opportunities represents (Rattansi and Westwood, 1994; Bagilhole, 1997; Black and Solomos, 2000) and also undermining the logic of resistance (Gorz, 1989). The application of managerialist ideology has of course been linked to other perceived problem areas like the NHS (see e.g., Miller and Rose, 1991; Ezzamel and Willmott, 1993; Humphrey et al., 1993).

The shift from legislation to a more proactive managerialist orientation by the Conservative government that took place during the 1990s has been linked to other economic and political expediencies. Some, for example, have suggested that the policy shift represented a search by the Conservative government for electoral advantage through attracting the votes of ethnic minorities, women and disabled people. Others have highlighted fears of further urban disorders (Bagilhole, 1997), and concerns over demographic trends, and anticipated labour shortages (Jewson et al., 1992) as further reasons behind the policy shift.

In conclusion, the developments in ethnic minority reporting during the 1990s took place within the context of considerable social unrest and increasing international pressure to address racial prejudice. These changing social conditions resulted in a significant shift in government policy on equal opportunities from legislation to managerialism. Government agencies actively encouraged business to engage with the race problem and this strategy appears to be related to the significant increase in the quantity of reporting on ethnic minorities amongst the companies in our sample. It is also significant that many companies did not disclose their EO initiatives and policies in their annual reports.

Article citation: Carol A. Adams and Ken J. McPhail (2004) ‘Reporting and the Politics of Difference: (Non)Disclosure on Ethnic Minorities’, Abacus, Volume 40, Issue 3, pages 405–435

Discussion and summary

The three time periods examined were based on the pattern of corporate disclosure on ethnic minorities that emerged. In the first period the ‘colour blind’ approach seems to have contributed towards a complete lack of disclosure. However, it would appear that this perspective gave way to a period of changing attitudes when a series of race riots and growing international concern over racism in general made it clear that a colour-blind approach was no longer tenable. The government initially adopted a legislative approach to dealing with racism, evidenced by simple policy statements on equal opportunities beginning to appear in some company reports. In the third period there seems to have been an increasing emphasis on the business case for equal opportunities. We contend that the increase in corporate disclosures is indirectly related to the changing political discourse and the proactive efforts by the CRE to engage companies in the equal opportunities agenda. We suggest that this shift represented a change in approach by the state towards the race problematic.

While several companies did seem to make a serious effort to tackle structural as well as direct racism in their employment practices, it was found that these efforts were not fully reflected in their corporate reports. We suggested that these omissions reflect first, a concern that the market would penalize companies who appeared to take equal opportunities too seriously, and second, in the case of companies who nevertheless were concerned, a desire to avoid being held fully accountable. As such, the nature of companies’ disclosure may reflect their attempts to negotiate potentially conflicting discourses.

In conclusion then it is contended that the identified patterns of disclosure and nondisclosure can be understood, in part at least, as reflecting the broader socio-political context within which they occurred and, more specifically, the changing political discourses surrounding the race issue in the U.K. It was noted at the beginning of the article that Marxist theory has traditionally provided the lens through which critical researchers have studied the race problematic. Applying this conventional Marxist perspective, particularly to the first two periods here, would lead to one of two possible conclusions in relation to the socio-political context behind patterns of disclosure: firstly, that the race problematic in general was an active bourgeois strategy for managing the exploitation of labour (Cox, 1970); or, alternatively, that it was a symptom of capital’s exploitation of labour that subsequently had to be managed (Banton, 1987). A brief comment is provided on whether either of these positions is consistent with the findings reported here.

Cox (1970) contends that race discrimination is an active bourgeois strategy for managing the exploitation of labour. In his classic Marxist analysis he defines racial prejudice as ‘a social attitude propagated . . . by an exploiting class for the purposes of stigmatizing some group as inferior so that the exploitation of either the group itself or it’s resources or both may be justified’ (Cox, 1970; see also Miles, 2000). He contends that this historical process originated in the colonial and imperialist phases of the development of capitalism.

The current study does not allow comment on the validity of Cox’s analysis in general, but it does seem to us that there has been a perceptible shift in racism as it exists in the late form of capitalism we studied in the U.K. In particular, Cox does not provide much help in understanding the establishment of the CRE, the advent of the managerialist discourse on equal opportunities, or the emergence of corporate reporting. The disclosures identified here and the broader managerialist discourse do not appear to stigmatize racial minorities. Indeed, Cox’s traditional, functionalist interpretation has been criticized by others for failing to elucidate the extent of racial hatred seen in many of the race riots (Bowling, 1996; Pilkington, 1996). This antipathy may not be related to economic expediency alone (Rex, 2000). Research by Adams and Harte (1998), for example, has found that the corporate annual report has been used by management as a political tool to maintain the status quo regarding gender differences in employment even where this has been contrary to capitalism’s economic interests. There is similar evidence in our study. During the first period, for example, racial tension seems contra to capital’s requirement for labour. In the first period, demands for restrictions to the employment of Black people by white workers and trade unions continued during labour shortages (Wrench, 1989). Some of the most violent rioting also took place during periods of labour shortage (see Bowling, 1996, and Pilkington, 1996).

Banton (1987) provides an alternative Marxist perspective on the race issue. His contention that the requirement to manage the threat of racism arises because of capital’s exploitation of labour does provide some insights for understanding the development of the race issue in the U.K. Yet while the immigration policies developed in order to satisfy capital’s requirement for labour might have exacerbated racial tension in the U.K., we contend that the complexity of this issue cannot be fully captured by the dialectic between capital and labour. It is also suggested that Banton provides little help in understanding either the nature of the threat of the racist problematic or the ways in which this complex issue is mediated.

Recognizing these difficulties, theorists like Stuart Hall (see, e.g., Hall et al., 1978, and Hall, 1978, 1980) have suggested that the racism can more usefully be approached from a cultural theory perspective and in particular through what has been termed ‘the politics of difference’. This phrase refers to a requirement to maintain the otherness of subjugated minority cultures so essential to the dominant self-identity, yet simultaneously manage the threat they pose. Central to this perspective is the role that the discursive construction of identity plays in managing ideological conflict. This cultural theory perspective is elaborated below together with an analysis of the insights it provides into the findings reported here.

From the findings above we suggest that the racist crisis in the late form of capitalism in the U.K. was mediated in different ways. Also, these different strategies reflect two different kinds of threat that emerged. It would seem that initially the threat came from riots, violence and social unrest and that the state attempted to manage this crisis through legislation. However, the events in the last period might be related to a different kind of threat than that highlighted by Banton (1987). Rattansi and Westwood (1994) explain that the danger of racial exploitation in late forms of capitalism comes not primarily from the threat of violence, but rather from its unsettling delegitimation of both the capitalist grand narrative and its subjugating self-identity. They explain that the ‘series of racisms’, which may have helped define who we in the West are, haunt us with the spectre of contradiction: Our developed, advanced, enlightened, educated society is intrinsically racist (Rattansi and Westwood, 1994; see Goldberg, 2000; Bauman, 1996). Rattansi (1994) elaborates: ‘Western modernity represents itself as civilized, and therefore as a project of, “humanity against barbarism, reason against ignorance, objectivity against prejudice, progress against degeneration, truth against superstition, science against magic, rationality against passion,” and more especially projects a mythology of itself as a tamer of cruelty and violence’. It would seem that both the International Year to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination and the Decade for Action to combat Racism and Racial Discrimination from 1973 to 1983 are examples of this kind of growing awareness that the existence of racism contradicts the West’s claim to be developed and civilized.

Rattansi (1994) contends that this self-conception has emerged from, and is sustained by, the different, ‘other’, kinds of savages encountered, subjugated and civilized during decades of colonial, imperialist rule. That is, our conception of ourselves in the West as being developed, educated, civilized and reasonably advanced may be derived as much from what we are not as from what we are: how we differ from others rather than what we are essentially in ourselves. Indeed, there may be a sense in which we continue to require these other, different, people to sustain the character and pretence of our own enlightened, objective, advanced identities (see Rattansi, 1992, 1994). From this perspective, maintaining the otherness of subjugated minority cultures may be an essential part in any attempts to integrate and manage the threat they pose.

Having elaborated on the nature of the race problematic in late capitalism, Hall (1980) proceeds to discuss how that threat is mediated. He draws on the dialectic of difference, outlined above, to explain the rise in the authoritarian state in the U.K. over the past few decades and the changing modus operandi in its approach towards racial tension. Hall’s arguments seem to resonate with our findings. These results indicate the changing ways in which the state has attempted to engage with the racial problematic over time, moving from more overt forms of regulatory control to hegemonic forms of discursive transformation (Goldberg, 2000). Drawing on Foucault’s concept of power/knowledge (McPhail, 1999; Foucault, 1970, 1977), it might be possible to hint at the characteristics of this broader managerialist discourse and this may help clarify Rattansi and Westwood’s (1994) proposition.

In particular it may help in understanding the ways in which this discourse may be seen to maintain the otherness of minority cultures while simultaneously assimilating ethnic minorities into the dominant culture (Robson and Cooper, 1989).

Foucault’s power/knowledge is in part a recognition of the complex ways in which individual subjectivities emerge as objects through specific discourses (McPhail, 1999; Foucault, 1970, 1977). Foucault posits, however, that subjects rarely emerge in isolation from other discursive objects. Rather, he contends that discourses categorize and order, and by so doing are intrinsically about difference. As Goldberg (2000) contends, ‘racial knowledge consists in the making of difference’. Foucault (1970) explains: “All knowledge, of whatever kind, proceeded to the ordering of its material by establishment of differences and defined those differences by the establishment of an order; this was true for mathematics, true also for taxonomies . . . and for the sciences of nature; and it was equally true for all those approximative, imperfect, and largely spontaneous kinds of knowledge which are brought into play in the construction of the least fragment of discourse or in the daily process of exchange.”

Goldberg (2000) contends that the racialized discourses of phrenology, IQ testing and crime statistics represent an example of precisely the kind of power/knowledge that Foucault elucidates (see Miller and O’Leary, 1987; Miller, 1989). If Foucault and Goldberg are correct, and the managerialist reorientation of equal opportunities is related to a broader (re)production and surveillance of racialized minorities, then the fragments of disclosure we discovered, the ethnic monitoring used by companies and discussed in their annual reports, the labels used and the knowledge these programs generated about specific categories of individuals, may reflect, and in some measure contribute towards, the establishment of differences between ethnic minorities and the prevailing culture. However, as well as establishing difference the broader managerialist discourse may also convey a sense of integration. The combination of integration and differentiation may serve to support the obvious superiority and magnanimity of the dominant self-identity. In an attempt to legitimate itself, the prevailing culture endeavours to represent itself as caring and empathetic.[10] Although we suggest that corporate disclosure on ethnic minorities is only indirectly linked to the CRE’s attempts to engage companies in the race problematic, we nevertheless contend that this shadow reporting[11] is significant because of the extent to which these disclosures reflexively contribute towards the transformation and sedimentation of the broader discourse surrounding the race issue in the U.K. (see Foucault, 1970, 1977; Burchell et al., 1985; McPhail, 1999).

All of this does not, of course, mean that that the managerialist discourse on equal opportunities has not improved or does not have the potential to improve the position of ethnic minority groups. In Discipline and Punish, for example, Foucault (1977) explained how, within hospitals, new forms of knowledge contributed towards better health care, and yet also ‘narrowed the possibilities for subjectification’ such that patients were treated like objects. The managerialist discourse may have positive effects for minorities; however, both Foucault’s and Hall’s argument is rather that there is a danger that the race problematic becomes embraced within new discursive practices which may transform what is a potentially system threatening issue into at best a benign or even a system serving issue.

This article contributes to the literature on corporate social disclosure, particularly with respect to the employment of ethnic minorities in the banking and retail sectors in the U.K. from 1935 to 1998. Patterns of nondisclosure and disclosure were considered in light of changing social, political and economic environments.

Further, we examined the appropriateness of a Marxist analysis, given that in the critical literature racism in the U.K. has been predominantly viewed from a Marxist perspective. A Marxist analysis does not fully explain nondisclosure, which may be related to social attitudes and changes in the state’s approach, through the CRE, to managing the evolving threats of racism. These findings indicate the complexity of the influences on corporate social disclosure and how it is dependent on the particular type of disclosure being considered. It highlights the incompleteness of current corporate social reporting theories, particularly with regard to explaining nondisclosure.

Article citation: Carol A. Adams and Ken J. McPhail (2004) ‘Reporting and the Politics of Difference: (Non)Disclosure on Ethnic Minorities’, Abacus, Volume 40, Issue 3, pages 405–435


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[1] The term ethnic minorities is used in this article in recognition that people from a diverse range of ethnic backgrounds may feel that they are discriminated against. However, our review of the literature found that most documented cases of discrimination in employment in the U.K. during the period we studied have been directed towards those of Afro-Caribbean or southern Asian origin.

[2] When considering whether disclosures referred to ethnic minorities we included any reference to nationality, national origin, ethnic origin, ethnic background, colour and race. This is consistent with the definition of the groups protected by the Race Relations Act, 1976.

[3] Annual reports were obtained from: the companies included in the sample; the archives of the Bank of Scotland, Clydesdale Bank and Royal Bank of Scotland; Companies House in Cardiff and Edinburgh; microfiche obtained from Microform; the corporate annual report archive of the Wards Trust Research Library, Department of Accounting and Finance, University of Glasgow; and the University of Strathclyde.

[4] Data were also collected on gender (see Adams and Harte, 1998).

[5] For a discussion of how the data were collected, see Adams and Harte (1998).

[6] There is, however, a requirement to disclose policy in respect of disabled employees, but not activities to ensure policies are achieved or outcomes: Companies Act 1985, Sch. 7 para. 9 (see Gray et al., 1996).

[7] Industrial and occupational segregation also applied to women’s labour (see Adams and Harte, 1998).

[8] This was followed later by a second and third decade.

[9] It was still apparent as recently as the 1990s, following police handling of the murder of Black teenager Steven Lawrence.

[10] For a more practical discussion of possible ways of developing the research, see Adams and Harte (1999).

[11] We use the term ‘shadow report’ to reflect our observation that the corporate disclosures we identified may represent a shadow caused by some broader change in discourse.


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