In the United States: Since affirmative action was legally mandated by successive executive orders by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson in 1961 and 1965 to ensure nondiscrimination based on race, creed, color or national origin, the policy’s main battlefield has been college campuses. When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Michigan’s ban of affirmative action in public universities in April 2014, it solidified similar bans in seven other states, including California. Now that the fate of affirmative action will be “decided at the ballot box rather than in the courtroom,” expect other states to follow.
In Brazil: As American public universities turn their back on affirmative action, Brazil’s are embracing it wholeheartedly. After the nation’s supreme court deemed quotas for public schools constitutional, Rousseff’s government pounced. It allocated spots for black, mixed-race and indigenous students based on the proportion of that state’s population (up to 80 percent in some). By 2016, all federal institutions must employ half of its workforce from state schools and a quarter from those living on less than $503 a month.
In the U.K.: Affirmative action, known in the U.K. as positive discrimination, is illegal. There are a few exceptions, including an initiative to increase the number of women in Parliament, which is set to expire in 2015. Positive discrimination shouldn’t be confused with positive action, however, which is the active encouragement of under-represented workers — no quotas, though, as that’d be positive discrimination.
In South Africa: To counteract the institutionalized racist policies of apartheid, the African National Congress-led government launched Employment Equity in 1998. The legislation requires employers with more than 50 employees to reach minimum standards of equity owning and representation in management and ignore a lack of previous experience for previously disadvantaged candidates: blacks, women and the disabled. Small businesses have balked at recent bills enforcing the policy.
In Malaysia: After the 1969 race riots, the Malaysian government enacted the New Economic Policy, which was affirmative action aimed at improving the prospects of the Malay ethnic majority. During British occupation, Chinese and Indian workers were preferred over the indigenous population, and Chinese Malay have maintained control of business and government ever since. Despite the fact that Malays now live far better lives, it’s not clear what role affirmative action played. In a 2008 survey, 71 percent of Malaysians consider the policies “obsolete.”