2020 Annual Report of the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency
The number of consultation requests soars by 78 percent / high proportion of instances of discrimination on grounds of racism or relating to the coronavirus pandemic
2020 saw an all-time rise in consultation requests to the Anti-Discrimination Agency over the year before. Overall, last year the Agency provided legal consultation, solicited opinions or mediated amicable settlements in 6,383 cases. This means, the total number of enquiries increased by 78.3 percent over the previous year (2019: 3,580 cases). It was above all requests concerning discrimination on grounds of ethnicity or racism that increased considerably from 1,176 requests in 2019 to 2,101 requests (by 78.7 percent). Similar, sometimes significant, increases were also noted in the other protected characteristics. Moreover, the coronavirus pandemic caused a one-off effect. Specifically, the Anti-Discrimination Agency counted 1,904 requests as directly related to the pandemic, the majority of which concerning the mask mandate. This emerges from the 2020 Annual Report of the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency, which Bernhard Franke, acting head of the agency, presented on Tuesday in Berlin.
“Never before have we seen such a sharp increase in consultation requests. In a year that saw a heinous terror attack in Hanau and the Black Lives Matter Movement, this uptrend in complaints about racist discrimination intensified even further. At the same time, we are experiencing a one-off effect caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to a further increase in consultation requests. Many other governmental and civil society anti-discrimination agencies were in a similar situation. As a consequence, we had to temporarily suspend our telephone consultation services due to the high number of enquiries – people seeking advice can currently contact us only in writing or via our consultation form. We are observing an increased awareness of discrimination in society. More and more people are actively seeking qualified advice,” Franke stated.
The Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency offers consultation to people who, during their working or day-to-day life, have experienced discrimination on grounds of their ethnic origin, religion, belief, sexual identity, age, a disability or their gender. In 2020, approximately 41 percent of consultation enquiries to the Anti-Discrimination Agency related to the characteristic of ‘disability and chronic disease’. In absolute terms, this corresponds to 2,631 cases, which means that the number has almost tripled over the previous year.
“The increase was largely caused by requests about face masks, which were listed under this characteristic. In this context, many people with disabilities had specific questions regarding the protection against discrimination. Unfortunately, the – often quite understandable – concerns of people with disabilities, who were not in fact able to wear a mask, were discredited through so-called coronavirus deniers presenting – in some cases fairly dubious – medical certificates,” Franke said. The consequence was that also people with disabilities, who were unable to wear a mask, were denied access to shops.
“Here it is vital to find tailored solutions for individual cases and take measures that accommodate the needs of people with disabilities – for instance, by bringing purchases outside or delivering them to the customer’s home,” Franke said. In principle, objective reasons, such as public health protection or the protection of, for instance, supermarket staff, might, in individual cases, justify discrimination with respect to a disability on account of the mask mandate.
The pandemic was not the only factor that contributed to the surge in enquiries seen in 2020. The number of consultation requests that were not specifically related to the pandemic also increased by 25 percent over the previous year. Enquiries concerning racist discrimination made up one third (33 percent) of all requests in 2020. The third most prevalent reason to turn to the Anti-Discrimination Agency, amounting to 17 percent of cases, was when people considered themselves to have been discriminated against on grounds of gender. Other reasons, in descending order, were consultation requests concerning discrimination on grounds of age (9 percent), religion or belief (5 or 2 percent, respectively) or sexual identity (4 percent).
Experiences of discrimination were mainly reported with regard to working life (23 percent) and in terms of access to or the use of goods and services (40 percent). Compared to the previous year, the ratio of these areas has effectively reversed (2019: 36 percent regarding working life and 26 percent in the area of goods and services). In more than a third of cases (37 percent), the discrimination took place in an area of life that is not or only partially protected under the General Equal Treatment Act (Allgemeines Gleichbehandlungsgesetz – AGG). This includes, for instance, large parts of the education sector and the entire field of government activity, but also public spaces and social media.
To meet this significant increase in enquiries, the Anti-Discrimination Agency announced it would set up a new service centre that, starting in July, would provide new and expanded telephone consultation services. As Franke explained, this was made possible through an increase in staffing levels since then:
“This way, we can offer advice to more people and intensify our legal consultation services. However, equally important would be expanding civil society consultation services and setting up anti-discrimination agencies in all Federal Laender.” Furthermore, Franke called upon the Bundestag to quickly implement the extension of the deadlines when asserting discrimination claims from two to six months, a step that had been announced as part of a set of measures by the Cabinet Committee for the fight against racism and right-wing extremism.
“Those experiencing discrimination need time to defend themselves and to assert their claims,” Franke stated.
Since 2019, the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency publishes annual reports about its activities. These reports complement the comprehensive report to the Bundestag, submitted to the Parliament in every legislative period by the Agency in cooperation with the Commissioners for Matters relating to Persons with Disabilities, for Migration, Integration and Refugees as well as other competent commissioners.
The Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency is an independent contact point for persons affected by discriminatio. It was established in 2006 when the General Act on Equal Treatment entered into force. The Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency does public relations work and research on the topic of Discrimination and offers legal initial counselling for people who have been discriminated against on grounds of ethnic origin, religion, ideology, sexual identity, age, disability or gender.