L’Oreal guilty of racism in shampoo ads

Company executives only wanted young, white women to sell its shampoo in France

25th June 2009: Highest court in France has found L’Oréal, the French cosmetics giant, guilty of racial discrimination.

The court was informed that executives of L’Oréal had sought an all-white team of sales staff to promote its shampoos.

The Times reported that Garnier, L’Oréal’s beauty products division, tried to keep black, Asian and Arab women from selling its Fructis shampoo in French supermarkets.

The court also found guilty of racial discrimination Adecco, the temporary recruitment agency whose Districom division hired the hostesses.

L’Oréal expressed "disappointment" over the judgment which was termed a "very great victory" by Mr. Samuel Thomas, the vice-chairman of SOS Racisme, the anti-racist campaign group.

According to a report by The Times, the court was told that a Disticom executive had sent a fax in 2000 saying that Garnier’s hostesses should be aged 18 to 22, wear size 38 to 42 clothes and be "BBR". This stands for "bleu, blanc, rouge" (blue, white, red) — the colours of the French flag — and is a well-known code for white people, La Cour de Cassation was told.

Thérèse Coulange, the deputy managing director of Districom, who sent the fax, defended the action saying she had merely wanted hostesses to able to "express themselves correctly in French".

Prosecutors said Garnier wanted to exclude ethnic minority candidates because they would be less likely to sell its shampoo in French shops.

Only 4.65 per cent of the hostesses hired for Garnier’s campaign were black, Asian or Arab, the court learnt.

The Paris Appeal Court had fined L’Oréal and Adecco €30,000 each and ordered them to pay a further €30,000 each in damages to SOS Racisme who have been fighting the case for three years. The fines were upheld by La Cour de Cassation but told the appeal court judges to reconsider the damages.

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