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Governing equal opportunities in the labour market – What does antidiscrimination legislation account for it?

Silke Bothfeld
Universität Bremen
Silke Bothfeld
Universität Bremen
Sophie Rouault
Bremen University of Applied Sciences
Open Panel

Abstract

As a response to European legal requirements, the German equal treatment act (AGG) has been set into force in 2006. As in most other EU member states this act now provides a substantial legal basis which allows individuals to sue social actors – employers as well as landlords or others – for discrimination. A new policy is at present debated in the EU – the introduction of quota for women in governing bodies of corporations. Obviously, equal opportunity policy is a dynamic policy sector, its development being driven by new emerging social expectations. Some scholars argue that antidiscrimination laws do not necessarily complete the toolbox for effective action against inequality in the labour market, pointing out that the effectiveness of antidiscrimination legislation depends on two complementary factors: its comprehensiveness and scope regarding the mechanisms of how legal action is implemented (e.g. the right to collective claims) as well as its respective role within a larger policy regime. Being based on comparative data from six Western industrialised countries, this paper suggests to analyse the structure of equal opportunity policies in terms of the constellation of instruments which is elaborated and implemented. We argue that an assessment of policy change has to base on a comprehension of the ‘inner structure’ of an instrument and we assume, that the ‘techniques’ and ‘tools’ stipulated by a legal text determine its character and effectiveness, an approach which is mostly underestimated in policy analysis. Secondly, we argue that equal treatment legislation may represent a missing link (or not) within a broader policy approach, as regulatory stipulations are ideally coordinated with other instruments embracing incentive programmes, information, monitoring and control mechanisms of the addressees The analysis of equal employment policies provides particularly interesting insights for public policy research as one main barrier for their effectiveness are implicit cultural norms and financial interests, whilst technical complexity is rather limited in this field. Our findings point out that more than the quest for effectiveness, implicit (cultural and normative) knowledge counts for a large extent when it comes to the design and introduction of new policy instruments. This paper is based on a pluri-annual cooperation project with the University of Zurich, funded by the Swiss National Fund and the Institute for Advanced Studies in Vienna.