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Thursday, 24 August, 2000, 13:14 GMT 14:14 UK
Ford: The road to change

Ford is not doing enough to tackle racism in the UK, says the Commission for Racial Equality. How can the corporation turn around its sorry record?

Henry Ford, the man who revolutionised car manufacturing and founded the Ford Motor Company, was not only a passionate advocate of mass production.

Henry Ford
Henry Ford: Steering a racist path
He was also one of America's most vocal anti-Semites.

Black Model Ts no longer chug out of its factories, but Ford's British arm is still failing to root out racism.

The Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) has threatened to formally investigate Ford if the car giant doesn't make good its many promises to implement equality programmes.

Ford's failures to address race issues have been many and glaring.

  • In 1996, it emerged just 2% of those selected to drive Ford's truck fleet (Salary 30,000) were from ethnic minorities. Black and Asian workers make up more than 40% of those employed at Dagenham, Ford's biggest UK plant.

    Seven rejected workers were later paid more than 70,000 compensation.

  • Ford doctored advertising literature featuring UK workers, removing all black faces. The altered pictures were intended for use in Poland - where few employees are non-white. However, the photos cropped up in UK showrooms in 1996.

    The four workers whose images were altered received 1,500 compensation.

  • Last year, Dagenham worker Sukhjit Parma told a industrial tribunal he had been subjected to racial abuse, death threats and Ku Klux Klan graffiti by two white foremen. Ford admitted liability.

  • Just as Mr Parma's case was being heard, Asian shop steward Jaswir Tega was allegedly pushed by a white foreman, "almost falling" into production machinery.

Given this dismal catalogue, what can Ford do to put its house in order?

The company has certainly not been slow to articulate its desire to pursue racial equality - with its global boss Jac Nasser flying in to pledge his determination to reform Dagenham.

Robin Banerji of the CRE says such boardroom promises mean nothing if attitudes on the shopfloor are not addressed.

Ford chief Jac Nasser
Global boss Jac Nasser promised action
"The big problem we find is that senior management say they are committed to equality action plans, which are often very impressive - on paper - but they are not implemented on the ground."

Mr Banerji admits that "changing attitudes is very difficult", but says the most successful way is to change the emphasis put on promoting equality.

Managers and foremen are more likely to adopt the attitudes espoused in the boardroom if their own promotion and pay prospects depend on ensuring the equal treatment of their subordinates.

Investing equally

"They should have to prove they are investing in all their staff. Offering access to training, promotion and career development regardless of race."

To gauge how impartial their managers are being requires Ford to closely monitor the performance of its ethnic workers.

The company has had no difficulty recruiting black and Asian employees - they represent a fifth of its national workforce. However, few make it far up the career ladder.

"They can recruit people - but then they tend to leave," says Mr Banerji.

Ford's Dagenham plant
Ethnic workers fail to gain promotions
To rectify this a diversity manager is required, to identify problem areas, hear workers' grievances and advise those leading the organisation.

"They have to have the authority to speak up if the action plan isn't working - and speak up at the highest levels."

If management immediately above a diversity manager sit on their complaints or don't believe them they may as well not exist, say Mr Banerji.

Kamaljeet Jandu, former race equality officer with the TUC, is the newly-appointed diversity manager for Ford's UK operation. He says he has no magic wand.

No instant solutions

"Changing the culture of an organisation cannot happen overnight. One has to realise the enormity of the task. There are no instant solutions."

Mr Jandu agrees there is much frustration at the disproportion of ethnic workers in "lower end" jobs, but "recognition of a situation can itself take time, it takes time for these anxieties to filter through to the top".

"That will be addressed by mentoring schemes and the Ford graduate scheme will encourage black applicants."

Ford production line
Racism is causing tensions on the shop floor
Mr Jandu says that aside from the ethical issues, Ford should be motivated to tackle its race problems out of business necessity - considering their run of bad publicity.

"We are an ethnically diverse society and to be successful and profitable you have to appeal to all quarters so that they will buy what you are offering."

In terms of production recent racist incidents have prompted expensive walkouts by workers and may well be hindering output on a daily basis, says Mr Jandu.

"If people are not happy because they are facing racial harassment or are not enjoying the opportunities they deserve, then this can be reflected in the quality of their work."

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See also:

24 Aug 00 | UK
Warning to Ford over racism
23 Sep 99 | The Company File
Ford apologises to race victim
11 May 00 | UK
Dagenham: Running on empty?
08 Oct 99 | The Company File
Ford workers back strike ballot
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