Secretary-General's remarks on Racism in the Workplace

Dear Colleagues,

Welcome to this very important discussion on racism in the workplace.

I want to thank Dr. Kanem and our distinguished panel members who bring impressive expertise to this difficult issue.

Racism is a persistent scourge of our world.

People’s opportunities for education and employment, and their access to healthcare and justice, are often determined by their race.

Much of today’s racism is deeply entrenched in centuries of colonialism and slavery.  I am Portuguese – I think I know this story very well. 

Despite periodic attempts at redress, racism and racial inequality still permeate institutions, social structures and everyday life.

I have consistently spoken out against a global surge in populism, nationalism and xenophobia that has empowered neo-nazis, white supremacists and racists of all kinds.

Racism challenges every government, every society, and every organization – including our own.

Let me be very clear: racism has no place in the United Nations.

Our Organization was founded on the principles of the dignity and worth of the human person, without distinctions of race, colour, ethnic or national origin.

We support Member States in developing legal tools and building capacity to address racism in all its forms. 

This creates a special responsibility for us – all of us who have the privilege of working for the United Nations – to examine and address racism and racial discrimination inside our Organization.

It’s true that we have clear rules in place that prohibit and protect staff from all forms of discrimination, including racism. 

But let’s be honest: sometimes we have been slow to acknowledge the existence of racism inside the UN.  

We must examine our efforts and ask ourselves if we are doing enough to combat racism and racial discrimination inside our Organization.

Addressing racism is not a simple, one-time action. Racism is a complex cultural phenomenon; combatting it demands action every day, at every level.

Addressing racism requires cultural and structural changes. It calls on us, all of us to examine long-held assumptions, and to question our unconscious biases.

Dear colleagues,

Fighting racism also requires positive action, including investment in social cohesion.

The exercise we are launching today, the campaign on Awareness and Action, is aimed at making sure that everyone who contributes to the work of the United Nations feels respected and valued as an individual, and as a member of our United Nations family.

We need to do better at listening to one another and acknowledging disappointment, anger and pain. 

The primary objective of the campaign is to create safe spaces for United Nations personnel to share their experiences and perspectives in a respectful and supportive environment.

The campaign aims to raise awareness of the various ways in which racism manifests itself in our workplace, and to encourage all colleagues to speak up and take action against racism and discrimination in all its forms.

Today’s event will be followed by a series of dialogues led by different duty stations, engaging leaders and experts from across the UN system, and from civil society and the private sector. These dialogues will consider the different facets of racism, and how we can strengthen our organizational culture to better prevent and respond to racism.

I hope you will share your ideas, suggestions and concerns during these dialogues. These will inform a strategic action plan to address racism and racial discrimination within the United Nations. I also encourage you to participate in the relaunched online survey on racism.

Today marks the start of an important opportunity for reflection and change.

Together, let’s make sure people of every race, ethnicity, colour, gender, religion, creed and sexual orientation enjoy a sense of belonging and safety, and have an equal opportunity to contribute to the success of our United Nations.

You have my full commitment and I thank you and wish you a fruitful discussion.

Thank you very much.