In France, When Islam Enters The Workplace

Both private and public French organizations are trying to strike the right balance between respecting beliefs among Muslim employees and keeping company welfare in mind.

In France, When Islam Enters The Workplace
Audrey Tonnelier

PARIS â€" While the government hopes to improve "the detection of radicalization in companies," the business world didn't wait for the tragic Nov. 13 terrorist attacks to address religious issues in the workplace.

"The first company guides appeared in the mid-2000s in public sector groups, American companies or companies that were strongly established in certain neighborhoods," explains Sophie Gherardi, head of the Contemporary Religion Study Center, a specialized think tank.

But the matter has taken on new and more sobering proportions over the past few years. In April, almost a quarter of managers (23%) said that they were confronted with a religious issue at least once per month in their companies, almost twice as much as in 2014 (12%), according to annual survey carried out by the Observatory for Religion in Companies.

"Most situations are easily manageable, but contentious cases or ones that could be viewed as obstructive have doubled in a year, from 3% to 6%," says Lionel Honoré, head of the observatory. Gherardi adds, "In the vast majority of cases, the issues concern Muslim people."


Historically, car manufacturers were the first concerned. Prayer rooms were created in French factories following strikes in the 1980s. "Today, the same names still reappear: Air France, Paris Airports (ADP), the Autonomous Operator of Parisian Transports (RATP)," says Jean-Louis Malys, national secretary of the French Democratic Confederation of Labor.

"It's not a company issue but more of a social one," Honoré says. "Companies aren't outside society. The ones that run into situations of excess, located on the outskirts of large cities, often employ low-skilled workers in the transport, logistics, construction, cleaning or food-processing sectors."

Amid current political and security realities, these groups prefer to keep a low profile. RATP found itself at the center of unwanted attention during the week that followed the Paris attacks, after daily newspaper Le Parisien reported that it was among the companies that had the most employees targeted by Fiche S, an indicator used by French law enforcement to flag individuals considered to be linked to terrorism. The public company appeals to its charter of secularism but still needs to convince employees internally. "We pretend to believe the problem has been solved," a former executive says anonymously. "The reality is that managers in contact with radicalized individuals are left on their own to handle these kind of things in bus depots."

Problems also exist in private companies. In Toulouse, a computer engineer at the IT services company Micropole Univers was fired for refusing to remove her headscarf when she came to work for her client. Since April, she's been awaiting a verdict from the Court of Justice of the European Union.

"Problems remain marginal, but they create significant tension when they appear," says Nicolas Cadène, of the Observatory of Secularism, which published a guide last year about management of religion in private companies. "Hence the necessity for prevention."

In France, the issue is complex for private companies. Unlike public service, where religious neutrality is the rule, in the private sector, "the 1905 law on secularism guarantees freedom of conscience, including for religion," Cadène says. There are limits, though, to ensure respect for others and the organization. "Wearing a religious symbol is often OK, but disrupting the functioning of the company or infringing on employees' assignments is not."


To head off problems or solve them, he says it's important to refer to objective criteria "Notifying an employee that a very long beard is not hygienic to serve food in a canteen, for instance, is proper, as is forbidding the distribution of leaflets promoting anti-gay-marriage protests. The person's job has to inform the judgment. An employee working in the meat department of a supermarket can't refuse to handle pork," he says.

Most often, pragmatism is the best solution. In the case of a warehouse of the supermarket chain Super U, in Montpellier, where employees asked a few months ago that they not be asked to prepare packages containing alcoholic products or pork, logic prevailed. "Solutions were found thanks to an imam, who explained to the employees that, if it was to earn a living and they didn't consume these products, they could handle them," a source at the distributor says.

At Bouygues Construction, a traditional headdress is not a problem as long as it fits under the hardhat. At BNP Paribas, there are also no restrictions on wearing a headscarf or a kippah, "except for the employees who are in direct contact with customers, who are required to have neutral clothing, devoid of religious signs," says Barbara Levéel, the bank's head of diversity.

As for Orange, it has set up scheduling systems for employees to be able to take days off during religious holidays, and people who wish to fast can also make schedule arrangements. ADP allows religious practices during breaks and has opened five spiritual centers, designed for both the passengers of the Roissy and Orly airports and their employees.

"The idea is to find the right balance by meeting employees demands but without forgetting about the general interest," Cadène explains. Opening communal prayer rooms to all religions, for example, is a practical solution, as is establishing menus without meat, which would suit Muslims, Jews and vegetarians alike.

Lionel Honoré, from the observatory, would like things to be more firm. "We're still struggling to punish radical behaviors, because they scare people," he says. "A person who doesn't take off her veil in front of a customer will be punished, while an employee who refuses to work in the same room as a woman will sometimes just be the subject of a change of position," the researcher says with regret. The challenge is serious, he notes. "The good functioning of a company is at risk, but also the freedom of all the employees, for whom professional life comes before the practice of religion."

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Protests against gasoline price hikes in Lebanon

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Wai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where leaked documents show how some countries are lobbying to change a key report on climate change, Moscow announces new full lockdown and the world's first robot artist is arrested over spying allegations. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt looks at the rapprochement between two leaders currently at odds with Europe: UK's BoJo and Turkey's Erdogan.

[*Bodo - India, Nepal and Bengal]


• Documents reveal countries lobbying against climate action: Leaked documents have revealed that some of the world's biggest fossil fuel and meat producing countries, including Australia, Japan and Saudi Arabia, are trying to water down a UN scientific report on climate change and pushing back on its recommendations for action, less than one month before the COP26 climate summit.

• COVID update: The city of Moscow plans to reintroduce lockdown measures next week, closing nearly all shops, bars and restaurants, after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a nationwide seven-day workplace shutdown from Oct. 30 to combat the country's record surge in coronavirus cases and deaths. Meanwhile, India has crossed the 1 billion vaccinations milestone.

• India and Nepal floods death toll passes 180: Devastating floods in Nepal and the two Indian states of Uttarakhand and Kerala have killed at least 180 people, following record-breaking rainfall.

• Barbados elects first ever president: Governor general Dame Sandra Mason has been elected as Barbados' first president as the Caribbean island prepares to become a republic after voting to remove Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.

• Trump to launch social media platform: After being banned from several social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter, former U.S. President Donald Trump announced he would launch his own app called TRUTH Social in a bid "to fight back against Big Tech." The app is scheduled for release early next year.

• Human remains found in hunt for Gabby Petito's fiance: Suspected human remains and items belonging to Brian Laundrie were found in a Florida park, more than one month after his disappearance. Laundrie was a person of interest in the murder of his fiancee Gabby Petito, who was found dead by strangulation last month.

• Artist robot detained in Egypt over spying fear: Ai-Da, the world's ultra-realistic robot artist, was detained for 10 days by authorities in Egypt where it was due to present its latest art works, over fears the robot was part of an espionage plot. Ai-Da was eventually cleared through customs, hours before the exhibition was due to start.


"Nine crimes and a tragedy," titles Brazilian daily Extra, after a report from Brazil's Senate concluded that President Jair Bolsonaro and his government had failed to act quickly to stop the deadly coronavirus pandemic, accusing them of crimes against humanity.


Erdogan and Boris Johnson: A new global power duo?

As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too, write Carolina Drüten and Gregor Schwung in German daily Die Welt.

🇹🇷🇬🇧 According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey. The country has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.

⚠️ Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey. She never supported French President Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU. But now that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.

🤝 At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense. The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016.

➡️


"He has fought tirelessly against the corruption of Vladimir Putin's regime. This cost him his liberty and nearly his life."

— David Sassoli, president of the European Parliament, wrote on Twitter, following the announcement that imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was awarded the 2021 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the European Union's highest tribute to human rights defenders. Navalny, who survived a poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin, is praised for his "immense personal bravery" in fighting Putin's regime. The European Parliament called for his immediate release from jail, as Russian authorities opened a new criminal case against the activist that could see him stay in jail for another decade.



Chinese video platform Youku is under fire after announcing it is launching a new variety show called in Mandarin Squid's Victory (Yóuyú de shènglì) on social media, through a poster that also bears striking similarities with the visual identity of Netflix's current South Korean hit series Squid Game. Youku apologized by saying it was just a "draft" poster.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Anyone want to guess Trump's first post on his upcoming social media platform...? Let us know how the news look in your corner of the world — drop us a note at!

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