An organization of South African businessmen today released a code of conduct for employers aimed at eliminating racial discrimination at the work-place.
Drawn up by the year-old Urban Foundation, a private group of businessmen, the code calls for the elimination of discrimination in such areas as "selection, employment, advancement and promotion of all employees." It is first effort by South Africans to encourage the country's businessmen to give equal treatment to black, mixed race and white employees.
Compliance with the code is voluntary, however, and there is no monitoring of a company's observance. The plan is not as detailed as that drawn up by American companies doing business here or that prepared by the European Economic Community for European businesses operating in South Africa.
The Urban Foundation director, Jan H. Steyn, denied that the group's code was in response to the American or Common Market codes. He said many of the foreign subsidiaries had "indicated they would welcome a code of conduct emanating from the South African business community itself."
The foundation's action today is undoubtedly in response to the violent riots in black townships, especially Soweto, over the past year and a half. The group itself was organized last year following the outbreak of black unrest declaring its chief aims to be encouragement of investment in black areas and the development of black self-help projects.
In contrast with specific recommendations in the American and Common Market codes for a standard minimum wage, the foundation is less explicit, calling for "wage rates aimed at the maintenance of viable living standards.
The foundation code is constrained by discriminatory laws passed by the South African Parliament and the authors include the caveat that all practices dealing with racial questions had to be "within the evolving South African legal framework."
In this vein, the code does not explicitly recommend that employers give black unions the same treatment as white unions, since that would violate the law. Black unions fear that the code's vague wording on this matter will be interpreted by some employers in ways that that will hurt them.
The thrust of the code touches on the sensitive issue of "job reservation," the practice of setting aside certain jobs for whites. Although the government mandates job reservation in about 3 per cent of all employment categories, white unions have considerably increased the number through contract negotiations.
Steyn, the foundation director, said that the code "definitely commits employers to scrap these job reservations in contracts . . . and . . . to overcome the resistance of employees in this matter."
Errol Drummond of the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa, which helped write the code, expressed the hope that it would act as "moral suasion" on the white workers.