Hot topic: Reporting extremism in the workplace

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The government’s Prevent programme has been extended from the public sector to private sector firms

The programme is enlisting businesses to help spot radicalisation, the Financial Times recently revealed, but some say it is a controversial move. So should it be HR’s role to root out extremist behaviour? And what are the ethical risks involved?

Kessar Kalim, director of HR at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, says:

"It’s no secret that public sector organisations have long grappled with how best to discharge their responsibilities under the Prevent programme, possibly fearing accusations of racial profiling and claims of discrimination. I suspect private sector companies will face similar challenges.

"There isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to follow. Organisations are all unique but have one common denominator: they do not operate in a vacuum. We are possibly experiencing the most fractured social and political landscape in living memory.

"Organisations have a moral responsibility to promote the best versions of themselves, and to tackle behaviours that could be viewed as extremist. HR should not shy away from this challenge; it should be at the forefront of supporting organisations and their leaders to promote a culture and environment where healthy dialogue and debate can take place, and where undesirable behaviours are challenged. This goes to the heart of organisational culture, and is not just an issue associated with the Prevent programme."

Fiyaz Mughal, founder and director of Faith Matters and TELL MAMA, says:

"This is a natural progression of the Prevent scheme that the government has already implemented in statutory organisations. The fact is that we have an Islamist extremist threat to our country and a rising far-right extremist threat. Both pose risks to our communities and their safety.

"Prevent can raise fears in communities, although it is part of the safeguarding regime that employers and public sector workers should be undertaking since they are responsible for the safety of their staff. Previous terrorism cases have demonstrated that individuals have espoused extremist views at work that were not challenged, and this creates a risk to others who may get sucked into this rhetoric.

"For this to work it is essential that support and training is provided to staff. If this is lacking it could lead to colleagues reporting people simply for being religious, and this would be disastrous. We know that religion is not an indicator of extremism. Nonetheless, employees and employers have a duty to ensure that people are safe, and this is a two-way process in an age where extremism has led to horrendous acts."

Check back tomorrow to read part two of this hot topic

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