Chuka Umunna made a speech about ethnic diversity in business. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Chuka Umunna announces a review into ethnic diversity in British business leadership

If Labour gets in, Lord Davies will lead a review into ethnic diversity in British business leadership, as he did for gender diversity.

During a speech at the KPMG Asian Festival Dinner tonight, the shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna announced that, if Labour makes it to government in 2015, the peer Mervyn Davies will lead a review into ethnic diversity in British business leadership, as he did for gender diversity.

Here's the full text:

The British Dream: Making aspiration a reality

Can I thank KPMG for hosting us tonight and for inviting me to speak. I know that, in this room tonight, there are some amazing stories that could be told – of business success against the odds, of supportive families and communities, of hard graft, of grit and determination. It is great to be celebrating the success of Asian business and Asian businesspeople in Britain.

I myself draw on the inspiration of my own father and his story.  He arrived at Liverpool docks from Nigeria – as a young man with only the suitcase he was carrying.

He borrowed the train fare from a complete stranger to make it here to London where he was to lodge with friends. But his head was full of dreams and his heart full of ambition.

He worked all the hours, he trained, did his business qualifications at night school, and eventually built a successful import-export business, creating a comfortable life for his wife and children.

His story, the stories in this room – these are powerful examples. But they are more than stories of individual success. They are part of the folk memory that proves what is possible – examples that can drive our communities to future success.

We are living in a world of profound and rapid change, driven by technology and the reshaping of the global economy as power moves south and east to India, China, Africa and beyond.

To succeed as a country, we need to harness the opportunities this brings and keep alive for all our people what I call the “British Dream” - the idea that if you work hard, play by the rules and do the right thing, you can make it. 

Because when we waste talent and ideas, we deny opportunity. But we also damage ourselves. We are - quite literally – poorer for it as a nation.

Of course it takes personal ambition, fortitude and perseverance to succeed. But when I look around my communities in Streatham, Brixton and Clapham, it is not a lack of these personal qualities I see.

The problem is that the starting line is not drawn straight, the hurdles are not all the same height, the road for some is rough and steep shaped by the circumstances into which they were born, not their underlying potential.

There’s a lot of talk about ‘aspiration’. But you know as well as I do that such talk can be cheap. For the talk to mean anything, it needs to have some grit: it needs to challenge the power of those who are standing in the way of aspiration. 

It has to make a difference to the barriers that are holding people back. Otherwise it’s just talk. To stand aside is to stand on the side of those who are already winning. If we want to see more high-growth companies like those in this room, then we have to open up closed circles of power which prevent them from succeeding.

Take finance. When the banks won’t lend to small businesses - that is a barrier to aspiration.

That is why we have promised to end the cosy cartel where all banks give you the same answer and tell you: “the computer says no”. Here I make no apology for standing on the side of aspiration.

We need more competition in banking. We need more competition to banking.

We need more – and more diverse – sources of patient, counter-cyclical finance.

This is behind our plans for a proper British Investment Bank and a network of regional banks.

These are problems that predate the financial crisis – structural problems that need structural solutions. 

Politicians have a tendency to disagree too vehemently and agree too reluctantly, so I want to say tonight that I am pleased this government followed on from the work of the previous Labour government and recognised the significant opportunity the expansion of the UK’s Islamic finance market represents to UK firms.

Another barrier to aspiration is blue tape – the administrative burdens large firms place on their supply chains. When a big firm doesn’t pay a supplier on time, that’s not fair. It makes the business environment that bit harder. It is a barrier to aspiration.

This is not about big firms versus small – our success is mutually dependent and the relationship between the two is symbiotic.

But in business, as in life, we all succeed when we all succeed – to do this means fair rules, fair markets and fair play.

That’s why we’re pushing through a change to the law which would ensure that any business paid late would automatically be paid interest.

This shifts the burden away from the supplier and removes the incentive for the customer to pay late.

Bigger firms would also have to report and publish quarterly, like a VAT return, when they’ve paid late which will bring greater transparency and pressure to bear.

It’s not just about money. It’s about skills too. Real support for aspiration means ensuring every young person has a pathway to success, whatever route they choose.

The last Labour Government focused on getting 50 per cent of young people into university.

This transformed opportunities for young people in my constituency, where the numbers going into higher education increased by 81 per cent. 

Now the priority for the next Labour Government will be to do the same for vocational education.

It will be to create a clear route – from gold standard vocational education in schools and colleges to apprenticeships and new Technical Degrees. 

We must end the snobbery that says that the vocational and technical is not as important as the academic. 

For this, we must change the situation in which fewer than one in ten employers offer apprenticeships.

It must become the new normal. So the goal – as Ed Miliband set out – is that by 2025 there will be as many young people doing high-quality apprenticeships as go to university.

This is how we help people to meet their aspirations and dreams.

By building an economy of well-paid jobs, and training people so that they can seize the opportunities.

A high-wage, high-skill economy, where we win in global markets because of the quality of our goods and services. 

But to do this, we must remain open for business.

And that means being outward looking to the world.

Engaged in Europe, working to make it more growth focused, not heading to the exit door – which would be disastrous. Europe is our largest market, but it is also the gateway to emerging market economies, where demand is set to explode.

We have a four-decade long trade deficit we need to reverse. I am clear we are best placed to do this being part of the EU. 

Trading also means making more of our diaspora communities – think about the amazing links here in this room to growing Asian markets.

As a nation, I am clear our diversity is a huge source of strength that we should do more to develop, support and celebrate in the current political climate.

But it is a shame that under this government, the obstinacy of the Home Office on visas has done huge damage to our growing businesses – and to our seventh largest export industry: our world class universities.

When we give the impression we are closed for business, we close our minds to a world of possibility.

Finally, realising aspiration means boardrooms in Britain that look like Britain.

We cannot carry on with the situation where half of all FTSE 100 companies do not have a single non-white director and just one in 15 management positions is filled by people of colour.

This is not just a problem for large corporations, it is a problem for British business as a whole.

When they tell me it’s a problem of the talent pipeline, I’ll tell them about the people in this room.

It’s a fixable problem, and it is a problem we will fix. 

That’s why I’m pleased to announce tonight that if we win in May next year, Lord Mervyn Davies has agreed to lead a review into ethnic diversity in British business leadership – to do the same for ethnic diversity as he did for gender diversity because we need the same scale of change.   

There’s so much to celebrate here in this room tonight, and we do.

But I also feel the sense that, for all the success, there is so much more that needs to be done and which we could all do.

So I want to conclude with an ask: many business people tell me of their dismay at the lack of understanding amongst young people of what it is you do, what it is like to run a business, to be an engineer. 

So my ask to all of you is, to the extent you are not already, get into our schools and tell your story. 

That is one way you can make a difference and we are looking at how to strengthen the links between all our schools and our businesses, with that purpose in mind. 

It is only, after all, by working together that we can realise opportunity for everyone.

Thank you.

Getty
Show Hide image

Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.