Historically, Sweden has long had various minorities such as the Roma, Finns, the Jewish
community as well as the Sami, an indigenous population. Nevertheless, Sweden has long
viewed itself as an ethnically homogenous country. This has been changing in large part
due to various types of immigration since the 1950s. During the 1950s through to the
1970s, there was labour migration to Sweden. From the 1970s onwards, various groups of
refugees arrived due to turbulence around the world. In addition to those from EU
countries, there are many people in Sweden who were born in other parts of the world. In
2019, the population reached 10.3 million. The proportion of foreign-born inhabitants
increased from 6.7 % in 1970 to 19.6 % in 2019.1 Ethnicity is not monitored, but Sweden’s
detailed statistics provide relevant proxies, such as statistics concerning country of birth.
Racialised ethnic groups are particularly affected by discrimination and exclusion. The
persistent history of racism and discrimination concerning the Roma has received some
recognition in recent years.2 Persons perceived to be Muslims or from the Middle East are
also clearly affected.3 The evident negative effects of racism/race discrimination on Afro-
Swedes in the labour market are well-documented.4
Sweden considers itself to be a secular country. At the same time, most people still belong
to the Lutheran church, the former state church. All state holidays are Christian holidays.
Various congregations other than the former state church have become more established
in recent years. This has brought to the forefront certain issues concerning discrimination
based on religion as well as freedom of religion. This applies in particular to persons
presumed to be Muslims. They may actually be Muslims or in the eyes of the discriminator
are mistakenly perceived to be Muslims due to markers such as their name, skin colour,
country of birth and/or accent.
There have been a number of issues concerning recognition and equality in relation to
disability and sexual orientation. In respect of these grounds and those of sex, ethnicity
and religion, equality silos were established that reinforced the way in which laws against
Sweden’s first law against discrimination, adopted in 1970, was a criminal law provision
prohibiting discrimination due to race or religion by merchants in the provision of goods
and services.5 However, it was the later civil laws against discrimination in working life that
set the pattern for the equality silos – based on separate laws and enforcement authorities.
The primary example was the prohibition of sex discrimination in working life that entered
into effect in 19806 and the establishment of the Sex Equality Ombudsman (JämO). In the
1980s, Sweden rejected the expansion of the mandate of the JämO to ethnicity and refused
1 Statistics Sweden (2019), Summary of Population Statistics 1960–2019, https://www.scb.se/en/finding-
2 See Ministry of Culture (2014) Den mörka och okända historien: vitbok om övergrepp och kränkningar av
romer under 1900-talet (The Dark and Unknown History – a White Paper on Abuses and Rights Violations
against Roma in the 20th Century), Ds 2014:8.
3 Oxford Research AB (2013) Forskning om diskriminering av muslimer i Sverige, (Research on discrimination
of Muslims in Sweden), https://www.do.se/globalassets/publikationer/rapport-forskning-diskriminering-
4 See e.g. CEMFOR (Uppsala University) (2018), Anti-Black Racism and Discrimination in the Labour Market,
Report 2018:22, Stockholm County Administrative Board,
5 Government bill 1970:87 concerning ratification of ICERD. Initially the law was found in Penal Code 16:8a,
which was changed to 16:9 in 1971. At the time the Government determined that ratification did not require
the introduction of laws against race discrimination in working life.
6 Act (1979:1118) on equality between women and men in working life.