L’Oréal: You’re worth it (if white)

Part of the cosmetics giant L’Oréal was recently found guilty of racial discrimination after it sought to exclude non-white women from promoting its shampoo.

In a landmark case, the Garnier division of the beauty empire, along with a recruitment agency it employed, were fined â,¬30 000 each after they recruited women on the basis of race. The historic ruling — the first time a major company has been found guilty of systematic race discrimination in France — saw a senior figure at the agency given a three-month suspended prison sentence.

The French group SOS Racisme brought the case against L’Oréal over the campaign in 2000. Garnier France sought saleswomen to demonstrate the shampoo line Fructis Style in supermarkets outside Paris.

In July 2000, a fax detailing the profile of hostesses sought by L’Oréal stipulated women should be 18 to 22, size 38-42 and ”BBR”, the initials for bleu, blanc, rouge, the colours of the French flag. Prosecutors argued that BBR was also a well-known code among employers to mean ”white” French people and not those of African and Asian backgrounds.

Christine Cassan, a former employee at Districom, a communications firm acting for Garnier, told the court her clients demanded white hostesses. She said that when she had gone ahead and presented candidates ”of colour” a superior in her own company had said she had ”had enough of Christine and her Arabs”.

One woman working in the recruitment firm involved said foreign-sounding names or photos showing a candidate was of Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian or other African origin would ensure candidates were eliminated. Another said: ”I once had a good woman candidate but she was non-white. I had to ask someone to pretend that our list was full.” — Â

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