Affirmative action is a hot topic for businesses. Since the 2023 US Supreme Court decision in Students for Fair Admission v. Harvard University and University of North Carolina, which held that attempts to increase diversity in universities by taking race into account in admissions decisions were not permissible, employers in the United States and beyond have been reviewing their diversity programs. As many employers have programs covering multiple countries, we provide a high-level review of the scope of affirmative action in a range of jurisdictions. For further advice on practical and permissible ways to promote diversity and the parameters of affirmative action across these and other jurisdictions, please contact your usual Mayer Brown contact or one of the listed authors.


Affirmative action in the workplace is permitted in Brazil in certain circumstances. Affirmative action aimed at minority groups can be adopted by employers in order to contribute to the promotion of equitable conditions for equal opportunities, inclusion and diversification of certain people or groups subject to discrimination.


Affirmative action in the workplace is permitted in China in certain circumstances. Employees are entitled to equal employment under PRC law. The Labor Law also stipulates that where there are special provisions in laws and regulations in relation to the employment of the disabled, ethnic minorities, and veterans, such provisions will apply.


Affirmative action in the workplace is permitted in France in certain circumstances. There is a general principle of non-discrimination and there are also laws aimed at reducing discrimination in the workplace against women (notably in terms of remuneration and opportunities of promotion) and disabled employees (in terms of access to employment).


Affirmative action in the workplace is permitted in Germany in certain circumstances. A policy that generally gives priority to a protected group, however, would be unlawful. A reasonability assessment would need to take place to take into account the circumstances of each case.

Hong Kong

Affirmative action in the workplace is permitted in Hong Kong in certain circumstances. The anti-discrimination ordinances provide that certain “special measures” reasonably intended to address particular inequality will not amount to unlawful discrimination.


Although there is no explicit regulation or legislation on this issue, it can be implied under the anti-discrimination laws in Singapore that employers are permitted to take affirmative action in the workplace in Singapore in certain limited circumstances.

United Arab Emirates

Affirmative action in the workplace is permitted in the UAE in certain circumstances. For example, rules and regulations that aim to enhance the participation of UAE citizens in the labour market (i.e., Emiratization rules and regulations) would not constitute discrimination.

United Kingdom

Affirmative action (known as “positive action”) is permitted in the United Kingdom in certain circumstances. There are two types of lawful positive action: general positive action and positive action in the context of recruitment and promotion. The line between lawful positive action and unlawful positive discrimination is, however, a narrow one.

United States

Employers in the United States are permitted to take action to increase the diversity of their workforce related to certain protected characteristics, so long as they do so without violating anti-discrimination laws. Federal government contractors are also explicitly required to undertake certain defined “affirmative action” steps to measure and address inequality in the workplace. However, these steps do not generally include positive discrimination.


We examine a range of topical issues: affirmative action in nine jurisdictions, navigating AI in the workplace and recruitment, the new equal pay law in Brazil, the rise of lifetime income products in CITs in the United States, the abolition of the lifetime allowance in the United Kingdom and updates in the H-1B visa lottery in the United States. We also highlight key recent global employment, benefits and mobility updates, in case you missed them.