Freedom of thought, conscience and religion

This page presents all relevant good practice case studies that showcase how business have addressed the Freedom of religion dilemma. Case studies have been developed in close collaboration with a range of multi-national companies and relevant government, inter-governmental and civil society stakeholders. We also draw on public domain sources, including the UN Global Compact's own published Communications on Progress through which signatories are required to report on their performance against the Ten Principles.

The case studies explore the specific dilemmas and challenges faced by each organisation, good practice actions they have taken to resolve them and the results of such action. We reference challenges as well as achievements and invite you to submit commentary and suggestions through the Forum.

Tyson Foods: Offering employees a multi-denominational and multi-lingual Chaplain service - US

Since October 2000, food and beverage company Tyson Foods’ chaplaincy program has provided compassionate pastoral care to Team Members and their families, regardless of their religious affiliation or beliefs. The program involves multi-denominational and multi-lingual chaplains at many Tyson locations, providing support on topics such as health problems, marital and family issues, grief and death, substance abuse, and job and financial concerns.

Texas Instruments: Religious affinity groups are an integral aspect of the diversity policy - Global

Texas Instruments takes a multifaceted approach to promoting “inclusion awareness” in the workplace, including an internal diversity website, workshops, newsletters, conferences, emails and brochures. Preeminent among these initiatives is the TI Diversity Network (TIDN), which includes 38 groups of employees based on individual characteristics such as gender, sexual orientation, religion or ethnicity. Each initiative has its own budget, meets on company time and is open to all employees. The groups are designed to offer a forum in which to share ideas, discuss challenges and offer feedback on topics such as career development, corporate communications, community involvement, recruiting and mentoring. In addition, TI employees have access to 12 non-denominational serenity rooms to use for prayer or personal reflection. Supplementing the groupings within the TIDN, Texas instruments also has business diversity teams composed of employees from various backgrounds who work together to find solutions to business challenges and grasp new opportunities. TI is also a member of the Diversity Connections Consortium, a group of 45 companies based globally that meet quarterly to share best practices with a view to amending their diversity policies to meet evolving challenges.

American Express: Affinity groups map onto corporate values - US

American Express has three distinct affinity networks: SALT (the Christian network), CHAI (the Jewish network), and PEACE (the Muslim network). Membership and event attendance are open to every employee of any faith and are geared towards fostering an environment of understanding that counters stereotypes. The networks are voluntary, employee-led and have senior-level sponsors. Groups are encouraged to cross-collaborate and focus on education, awareness and inclusion. This includes educating and training employees about religious diversity and facilitating employee engagement through special events and communication. American Express has found that this religious expression accommodation has helped the company retain talent and bring broader perspectives that strengthen customer relationships. Members are often tapped for advice on ways to better market to targeted communities and are consulted on corporate social responsibility efforts, including the selection of charities to support. The expertise of network members is also sought when ethnic/cultural events are planned and recruitment and retention initiatives are launched.

Arab-American Business Fellowships Programme: Developing business relationships - US

Sponsored by the Dow Chemical Company, the Arab-American Business Fellowships Programme is a joint effort between the U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy, Business for Diplomatic Action, the Young Arab Leaders, and the National U.S. Arab Chamber of Commerce. The programme is open to individuals that have a minimum of five years work experience and are between 25-35 years of age. The programme is designed to foster mutual understanding and respect between the American and Arab business communities whilst providing skills training and networking opportunities for the successful candidates from each region. The Arab group spends three weeks rotating among corporations in the US such as Time Warner, Bloomberg, NASDAQ, Microsoft and Boeing, while the American group is hosted by companies in various countries in the Middle East. Both sets of fellows will be exposed to leaders, local communities as well as the culture. The Programme facilitators aspire to “develop a dialogue between the cultures, participants ... [that] creates an environment in which information, opinions and knowledge flow both ways.”

TPG: Accommodation for prayers in the workplace - Australia

An Islamic employee of Australian IT company, TPG, who wished to practise his religion during work hours, alleged that his right to freedom of worship was infringed when the company disciplined him for taking time out of his working day to pray. After a campaign backed by the union movement and Australia’s major religious denominations, and a vote by TPG staff to change the lunch time to facilitate his Friday prayers, the company responded by agreeing that the worker would be allowed to take five minutes for an afternoon prayer break, and that the Friday lunch break time would be changed to accommodate his midday prayer.

British Airways: Addressing religious symbols in the workplace - Global

In September 2006, British Airways (BA) faced allegations of infringing religious freedom when a check-in worker, Nadia Eweida, said she had been suspended for contravening the company’s dress code by wearing a visible Christian cross on a necklace. Although BA permitted Muslim and Sikh employees to wear visible religious symbols such as headscarves and Sikh bangles while in uniform, it was alleged that the company would not make an exception to the general company policy of banning all visible jewellery for uniformed employees to allow for the wearing of a crucifix. Ms Eweida pursued her case through an industrial tribunal where it was eventually dismissed. The case received considerable media attention. Pressure on the company culminated in a threat by the Church of England to sell its GBP 6.6 million worth of BA shares. British Airways retracted its ban on wearing crosses and reinstated Ms Eweida. From February 2007, all of BA’s 34,000 uniformed employees became entitled to openly wear a symbol of faith, including on a chain. According to BA chief executive, Willie Walsh, the policy change followed extensive consultation with the company’s own staff and religious leaders. British Airways’ diversity strategy states that its “Uniform Committee has adapted the new uniform to ensure that it upholds the corporate image whilst allowing flexibility to meet key religious needs”. According to the company, BA also reflects the range of religions followed by its employees by providing prayer facilities, catering to specific religious dietary needs, and by publishing an awareness-raising monthly religious festivals newsletter.

Ford: An ‘Interfaith Network’ for multi-religious accommodation - Global

In 2001, Ford Motor Company established its ‘Interfaith Network’; a company-sponsored program that promotes the shared expression and education of different faiths among employees. One important feature of the scheme is the provision of ‘meditation rooms’, available to workers of all religious beliefs as a place of prayer and spiritual reflection. In 2009, the program had 5,000 employee subscribers, including those from the Muslim, Hindu, and Jewish communities. Many participants state that it helps reduce stress, strengthen trust in their employer, and heighten shared spiritual awareness. Ford believes that if its employees feel appreciated and respected in this context, they will give their best in the workplace. Other companies operating similar projects also claim that they help increase loyalty and creativity, and reduce absenteeism. It should be noted that such schemes are implemented to help companies become ‘faith-friendly’ rather than ‘faith-based’, so as to avoid the potential issue of favouritism towards, and discrimination against, any given religion.

IBM: Creative solutions to individuals’ faith-based concerns - US

American multinational technology and consulting company IBM was faced with a specific freedom of religion issue when, on her first day of work, a female Muslim employee objected to showing her face from under her veil for the purposes of an identification (ID) badge photograph. As a solution, the company arranged for the employee to have one picture taken in her veil for use on day-to-day ID, and a second picture, taken by a female photographer, to be used on ID that could be secreted on her person, and that would only be seen by a female security officer if necessary.

Equality and Human Rights Commission: Helping workplaces become faith-friendly – UK

In 2015, in an effort to address disproportionately low rates of employment among the Muslim population in Wales, the Equality and Human Rights Commission published a report called ‘Creating a Faith-Friendly Workplace for Muslims’. The report highlights low employment rates of Muslims in Wales compared to other faith groups, despite Muslims being more likely to hold third level degrees than other demographics in the country.

To remove potential barriers to employment, such as language, culture and discrimination, the report sets out a strategy for ‘faith-friendly’ organisations. This strategy argues that businesses that take practical steps to recognise the importance of religion for some employees expand their recruitment options and will have better retention. The report recommends the following steps to create a faith-friendly workplace:

·         Developing and promoting a workplace policy for religion and belief that embraces all beliefs and promotes a culture of respect

·         Having an all-faith staff network that provides a forum for peer support and celebrates diversity

·         Implementing all-staff training on different religions and beliefs to help create a culture change and explore stereotypes and assumptions about different faiths

·         Exploring how employees can maintain their faith in the workplace

·         Promoting different religious events to encourage the integration of faith and work for all religions and beliefs

The report highlights innovative approaches by local businesses and organisations in becoming faith-friendly. For example, BT is recognised for having an internal Muslim Network with over 400 staff members. This network holds workshops for all employees to foster collaboration, to raise awareness and promote cultural understanding.

The report also highlights the work that the Wales Trade Union Congress (TUC) is doing to ensure Welsh workplaces are faith-friendly. This includes awareness raising, helping businesses to develop diversity policies and embedding flexible working to allow members of different groups to take time off to suit religious requirements.