View from the House

The House of Commons has been debating the Human Rights Bill.

This also provides opportunities for reflections on how human rights issues apply to institutions, like the accounting bodies that may not be in the habit of doing so.

In recent years, the BBC, Army, Police, Judiciary, Marks & Spencer and other organisations have carried out ethnic monitoring of their employees, enabling them to check the fairness of their employment policies and tackle institutionalised discrimination.

In contrast, the accountancy profession has done little. A 1987 report by the Commission for Racial Equality criticised major accountancy firms for their recruitment and promotion policies. They claimed to be equal opportunities employers, but had failed to publish any information about the composition of their employees and partners.

Non-white partners in major firms are rare. It cannot be due to the lack of suitably qualified accountants. Without ethnic monitoring, firms cannot easily explain the outcomes of their employment policies.

The Law Society engages in ethnic monitoring of all its students and members to enable it to develop suitable policies. The accountancy bodies have resisted doing the same. None has ever commissioned research on employment discrimination.

Among the accountancy bodies, only the English ICA undertakes ethnic monitoring of its student intake. It shows non-white individuals are unlikely to secure employment with major firms. The institute, which routinely lobbies for the auditing industry, has failed to develop any suitable policies for remedying this.

ACCA’s ‘open-door’ policy has enabled minorities to qualify as accountants.

But this has failed to recognise the employment difficulties faced by minorities.

More than 50% of ACCA membership is non-white, but this has not resulted in any non-white office-holders.

After an intervention by the CRE, ACCA agreed to formalise ethnic monitoring for its disciplinary hearings.

The accountancy profession should be subjected to the same ethnic monitoring practices that are routinely adopted by other organisations. It will be stronger for doing so.

Jim Cousins is Labour MP for Newcastle Central.

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