Finnish firm faces equality probe after offering women-only discounts

Finland’s Equality Ombudsman is investigating complaints of alleged gender discrimination against textiles firm Finlayson. The Ombudsman received 13 complaints about a wage gap campaign in which the company offered a women-only discount of 17 percent to reflect the current pay gap between men and women.

Finlaysonin pyyhkeitä. Image: Ismo Pekkarinen / AOP

On Thursday, textiles retailer Finlayson launched a campaign aimed at highlighting Finland’s gender wage gap. The company is charging women 83 percent of the full retail price on all its products during September, to reflect the fact that women in Finland earn 83 cents on average for every euro a man is paid.

The company said that it would donate the proceeds of the difference paid by men and women to the Feminist Association, Unioni to finance its operations.

The stunt achieved its intended effect of generating a great deal of attention, especially on social media, where users have argued both for and against it. Equality Ombudsman Jukka Maarianvaara told Yle that his office had received 13 complaints about the campaign.

"I have received certain information that suggests that the matter is worth looking into. Of course as the authority charged with monitoring [gender] equality we will examine it," Maarianvaara said.

Finlayson CEO: We took a deliberate risk

In an interview with Helsingin Sanomat, Finlayson CEO Jukka Kurttila said that he know the company was running afoul of equality laws.

"Of course we are breaking the law, we know that. This probably violates equality laws, but this was a conscious and deliberate risk. We don’t want to let the law stop us from speaking up about injustice," Kurttila declared.

The Ombudsman said that he did not want to comment prematurely on the legality of the campaign, but first wanted to get to the bottom of the case.

He noted that on a general level, equality legislation contains a clause in which companies providing goods and services are prohibited from placing members of any sex in a disadvantageous position. He said that EU directives also lay down similar provisions.

Maarianvaara pointed out, however, that short term campaigns that yield little financial gain – such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day sales – may be permitted by law.