From The Times June 25, 2009
French cosmetics giant L’Oréal guilty of racial discrimination
Eva Longoria and Kerry Washington in a L'Oreal advertisement
Adam Sage in Paris
L’Oréal, the French cosmetics giant, whose advertising campaigns proclaim “because you’re worth it”, was found guilty of racial discrimination for considering black, Arab and Asian women unworthy of selling its shampoo.
France’s highest court was told that the group had sought an all-white team of sales staff to promote Fructis Style, a haircare product made by Garnier, L’Oréal’s beauty division.
The word went out that Garnier’s hostesses should be BBR — “bleu, blanc, rouge” — the colours of the French flag. The expression is widely recognised in the French recruitment world as a code for white French people born to white French parents, a court was told, in effect excluding the four million or so members of ethnic minorities in France.
La Cour de Cassation, the equivalent of the US Supreme Court, said that the policy was illegal under French employment law, upholding a ruling given by the Paris Appeal Court in 2007.
Racism claim gets under L'Oréal's skin
The judgment was a significant blow to the image of the world’s biggest cosmetics group, which has spent millions of dollars in global advertising campaigns featuring stars such as Andie MacDowell, Eva Longoria, Penélope Cruz and Claudia Schiffer.
That image already suffered a battering when L’Oréal executives were forced to deny claims that they had lightened the singer Beyoncé Knowles’s skin for a campaign last year. The ruling also hinted at widespread prejudice among French shoppers since L’Oréal believed that they were more likely to buy shampoo from white sales staff, the court was told.
The ruling will fuel anger among black and Arab French people, who complain that they face widespread discrimination when seeking employment.
The court ruled that Adecco, the temporary recruitment agency whose Districom division hired the hostesses, was also guilty of racial discrimination. The Paris Appeal Court had fined both L’Oréal and Adecco €30,000 (£25,500) and ordered them to pay a further €30,000 each in damages to SOS Racisme, the anti-racist campaign group, which brought the case. The court upheld the fines but told the appeal court judges to reconsider the damages.
L’Oréal expressed “disappointment” at the judgment, which ends three years of legal wrangling over the discrimination claims. Adecco declined to comment.
Samuel Thomas, the vice-chairman of SOS Racisme, described the ruling as a “very great victory”. He said: “Whatever the size of the company, none is able to escape prosecution.”