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UK sees first black ‘hair code’ to protect employees against discrimination

The Independent logo The Independent 09/12/2020 Sarah Young
Angel Haze et al. posing for the camera © Provided by The Independent

A group of young black activists have launched the UK’s first hair code designed to prevent discrimination based on hair style or texture.

The Halo Collective has launched the “Halo Code”, which asks organisations to commit to celebrating natural hairstyles, rather than penalising students and employees.

“Despite hair being a protected racial characteristic under the law, there is a widely held belief that black hairstyles are inappropriate, unattractive, and unprofessional,” co-founder Edqina Omokaro told the Guardian.

“No one should have to change their natural or protective hairstyle in order to thrive. Together, we will ensure that all black people can learn, work, and live free from hair discrimination.”

The campaign has won the backing of one of the UK’s biggest employers, Unilever, which has pledged to protect its workers from race-based hair discrimination.

The manufacturer, which makes Dove soap and Magnum ice-cream, is the first employer to adopt the code, with more schools and workplaces to be announced in the coming week.  

“We believe the individuality of hair should be celebrated, which is why Unilever UK & Ireland is the first company to support and communicate the Halo Code to its people, and believe it is a vital step in the fight to ensure racial justice and racial equity for the next generation,” says Nikki Comiskey, Dove UKI marketing manager.

Despite bias against anyone with hairstyles associated with their racial, ethnic, and cultural identities having been illegal in the UK since the Equalities Act became law in 2010, it is still a regular occurrence.

According to a survey by the Halo Collective, one in five black women feel societal pressure to straighten their hair for work and more than half of black students have experienced name calling or uncomfortable questions about their hair at school.

The founders of thee Halo Code said this can result in black people sometimes being “forced to choose between their education or career on the one hand, and their cultural identity and hair health on the other”.

Maurice Mcleod, chief executive of Race On The Agenda, a social policy thinktank, said that hair discrimination is “still worryingly common.”

“People should not be penalised for the hair that naturally grows from their heads,” says Mcleod. “Despite equality legislation, some schools and workplaces still have very fixed ideas about what ‘professional’ hair looks like and all too often, this is from a white European lens.”

Earlier this year, Ruby Williams was awarded a settlement of £8,500 after being repeatedly sent home from school because she had afro hair, which teachers told her was against the uniform policy and could block other pupils from seeing the whiteboard.

In July 2019, California became the first state in the United States to ban the racial discrimination of natural hair in the workplace and in schools, followed by New York.

The new legislation means that it is now illegal to discriminate against students and employees in the workplace due to the way they style their hair.

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