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France

French recycling company adopts 'secularism charter'

© AFP

Text by Sébastian SEIBT

Latest update : 2014-02-19

Paprec, a recycling company in the northern Paris suburb of La Courneuve, became France’s first privately-owned business to adopt a so-called “secularism charter” on Tuesday, which forbids its employees from wearing religious symbols.

By adopting the charter, Paprec has revived the debate on France’s cherished secularist values and to which institutions they should or can be applied. Several cases have highlighted the issue over the past many months: the Ministry of Education introduced a similar document in state schools at the start of the academic year and, in November, a Paris court controversially ruled to back a private nursery school’s decision to fire a woman for refusing to remove her headscarf.

All 4,000 of Paprec’s employees voted to approve the charter, which will be written into official policy and displayed at the entrance of each of the company’s 50 sites once it has been validated by the Ministry of Labour.

“[It’s] to protect employees against all forms of religious pressure thereby promoting togetherness,” Jean-Luc Petithuguenin (pictured), Paprec’s CEO, explained at a press conference. “We were inspired by what the Ministry of Education had done and adapted it for the company.”

Under the terms of the charter, staff will not only be prohibited from wearing outward signs of their religious persuasion, but also from proselytising in the workplace.

“If someone came to work tomorrow wearing a religious symbol, we would try to handle the case humanely by explaining that it did not conform with our values. If the problem persisted, we could invoke the charter,” Petithuguenin said.

Pushing the debate

For Petithuguenin, the company’s new charter is above all a political stand. He maintains that Paprec has never had any problems over religion or ethnicity in the past, saying that “it would be incompatible with the company culture”.

In fact, Paprec has often been held up as a model of diversity, with 52 different nationalities represented in its workforce.

The charter raises the tricky question of just how far France’s secularist values should go. Up until now, measures restricting conspicuous religious symbols have been limited to the public sphere.

“Secularist values are imposed on civil servants to ensure the neutrality of public services. We can’t impose the same constraints on private employees,” Abdel Aissou, CEO of the human resources and recruitment firm Randstad France, told FRANCE 24. In 2013, the company published the country’s first study on religion in businesses alongside the Observatory of Religious Practices (Observatoire du Fait Religieux), a French thinktank.

While Aissou went on to applaud the democratic nature of Paprec’s charter, he did however warn against companies introducing restrictions that go above and beyond country’s labour code.

“Of course we’re taking risks with this charter,” Cyril Cuny, Paprec’s director of Organisation and Methods, told FRANCE 24. “But it’s also to show that there is a grey legal area that could create issues which need to be resolved.”

The company hopes that by introducing the charter, it will force the debate on secularism in privately-owned businesses.

Date created : 2014-02-11

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