Switzerland’s largest retailer, Migros, says it will not impose a ban on the wearing of Islamic headscarves by its female employees.This content was published on November 18, 2004 - 18:46
In a statement on Thursday, it said it would decide each case on an individual basis and “take into account the interests of Migros customers, management and employees”.
Migros added that it was concerned with the issues of hygiene and safety, as well as with protecting its staff from verbal or physical abuse.
Spokeswoman Monika Weibel told swissinfo that a Zurich branch last week gave permission to one female Muslim employee to wear her headscarf to work, which may have set a precedent leading to Thursday’s decision.
The employee in question made the request last August, sparking an internal debate about the issue.
Head of personnel at Migros Zurich, Urs Stolz, told the “Tages-Anzeiger” newspaper that some customers had reacted with “shock” when they saw the woman wearing the headscarf.
But Stolz said Muslims should have the same rights as other religious groups, and “Jews and Sri Lankans wear yarmulkes and turbans at Migros without any problem.”
Commenting on the issue at a Catholic meeting in August, cabinet minister Moritz Leuenberger said a blanket prohibition on the Islamic headscarf would not help to build peace among religions.
For its part, the Islamic Cultural Foundation in Geneva, which also administers the mosque there, said it accepted a ban on headscarves in the public administration, “but it is unacceptable that this would be extended to the private sector”.
In 1997, the Federal Court turned down an appeal by a Geneva teacher who wanted to wear her headscarf to work. The court said allowing her to do so contravened the principle of sexual equality.
Weibel told the newspaper, “Le Temps”, that the court’s ruling had little relevance in Migros’ case since it concerned a school “which has a mission to educate and explain practices to its pupils.
“In a company it is different,” she said. “We have to respect the autonomy of our employees.”
Migros has set a company-wide policy on the wearing of Islamic headscarves, following a request by a Muslim female employee in Zurich.
A Migros personnel officer says Muslims should have the same rights as Jews and Sikhs, who wear yarmulkes and turbans.
In 1997 the Federal Court refused to allow a Geneva teacher to wear a headscarf to work, but Migros says the case has no relevance to a private enterprise.
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