The Ombudsman has many different ways to promote equality and tackle discrimination. In practice the work involves counselling, investigating individual cases, promoting conciliation between the parties, providing training, gathering information, as well as influencing legislation and the practices of the authorities.
Discrimination is treating one person less favourably than others on the basis of a personal characteristic. All human beings are entitled to equal treatment, and discrimination is prohibited by many of our national laws, the Non-discrimination Act, the Criminal Code, as well as international human rights conventions.
Age, origin, nationality, language, religion, belief, opinion, political activity, trade union activity, family relationships, state of health, disability, sexual orientation and other personal characteristics are grounds for discrimination prohibited by the Non-discrimination Act.
In a just and fair society, person-related factors such as disability, sexual orientation or skin colour, should not impact a person’s access to education or services, or their job prospects. Fundamental rights belong to everyone.
The purpose of promoting equality is to prevent discrimination, ensure the de facto equality of all people and remove inequality due to discrimination in the society. The authorities, private parties with public administration duties, education providers and employers are obliged to promote equality in their activities.
Public authorities, private actors performing public administrative functions, education providers and employers must assess and promote equality in their activities and prepare equality promotion plans to promote equality.
Anyone can be discriminated against. Discrimination takes place in different areas of life and in many ways. Discrimination can take place for example in private services, health care, school, renting an apartment or in employment.
Discrimination in online advertisements
The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman receives regularly complaints about discriminatory or racist advertisements in various advertising services. The most recent example was a property rental advertisement in which the tenant was required to be a Finnish citizen and speak Finnish fluently. The advertisement was in clear violation of the Non-Discrimination Act and broke to rules of non-discrimination.
What type of discrimination has there been in advertisements? In property advertising, it is against the Non-Discrimination Act to require the tenant to have Finnish citizenship. Nor is it legal to express that the advertiser will not accept a particular ethnic group as tenants. Requiring that the tenant speaks fluent Finnish may also constitute discrimination. There are several ways to enable sufficient communication between the landlord and the tenant, such as using another language that both parties speak or use an interpreter.
The case in point is one example of discriminatory behaviour by a private individual that is also against the Non-Discrimination Act. All public advertising of goods and services falls within the scope of the Non-Discrimination Act. An advertiser of a service or item, that is, the person who has created the advertisement, may be held liable for compensation under the Non-Discrimination Act if the advertising is considered to constitute a provision of service. In other words, anyone posting a discriminatory advertisement may be held liable to pay compensation to the victim of discrimination. In this particular example, the Ombudsman had no knowledge of a victim, or a person who had applied for the flat, so claiming compensation was not possible at this time.
Good practices and the promotion of equality
The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman is satisfied with the way Oikotie handled the issue. Oikotie is invests in advising advertisers and training their customer service personnel to identify inappropriate and discriminatory advertisements. Inappropriate advertisements will be removed or requested to be edited, and the advertiser will be notified.
There are currently numerous online and social media services for goods and services available for the public in Finland. Based on the Ombudsman’s experience, the providers of these services have different ways of intervening with inappropriate advertising. It is important that the service platform providers are themselves aware that responsible operators intervene with discriminatory advertising and inappropriate conduct and promote equality by setting good examples through their own actions.
Under the Non-Discrimination Act, it is prohibited to discriminate against a person on the basis of their age, origin, nationality, language, religion, belief, opinion, political activity, trade union activity, family relationships, state of health, disability, sexual orientation or other personal characteristics (Non-Discrimination Act 1325/2014).
Advertisements for properties for sale and rent fall within the category of public activities and therefore the scope of the Act (section 2). The person or agent selling or letting may select the buyer or tenant but not on discriminatory grounds. The seller, landlord or agent naturally have a right to require that the buyer or tenant have ability to pay and are able to meet their contractual obligations, but the selection of a tenant may not be based on for example the person’s ethnic origin, nationality, religion or disability. The seller, landlord or agent would be guilty of unlawful discrimination under the Non-Discrimination Act if a person is treated less favourably than another person would be treated in a comparable situation based on personal characteristics.
According to section 4 of the Non-Discrimination Act, a provider of goods and services means a party that professionally offers goods or services for general availability. When a private individual places an investment property for rent and advertises this publicly, it is be considered professional provision of services.