By: Ainsley Brown
This is part of the Middle Passage Law Series and is cross posted on Law Is Cool.
Now I know I have not posted a piece in this series in quite some time and for that I apologize – I have no excuse.
It may seem that I am either picking on L´Oreal, as I have tracked their recent legal battles with eBay on Commercial Law International, either that or I have an obsession with makeup. Let me assure you that neither in the case. With that over, let´s go to the story.
The La Cour de Cassation, the highest court in France, upheld the ruling by the Paris Court of Appeal, finding L´Oreal guilty of racial discrimination. The court also found Adecco, a temp-employment agency, involved through its Districom division, guilty and fined both it and L´Oreal €30,000. The court however, sent back to the Court of Appeal for its reconsideration the €30,000 each in damages payable to SOS Racisme, an anti-racism public interest group that brought the case.
The ruling ends three years of legal wrangling and is no doubt a huge blemish for L´Oreal.
The main issue of fact in the case was BBR. Yes, BBR. What in the world is BBR, you ask?
BBR or blue, blanc, rouge – the colors of the French flag. Now if you were to ask me I would have simply thought that this was a general patriotic gesture, however, it hides a much more sinister meaning. It, as the Times reports is an expression ¨widely recognized in the French recruitment world as code for white French people born to white French parents.¨ This would of course exclude not only the 4 million ethnic minorities current living in France but also any whites not born of pure French stock, including presumably none other than the French President himself Nicolas Sarkozy whose father is Hungarian.
It would seem that word got out that L´Oreal did not want any black, Asian or Arab sales staff to promote Fructis Style, a hair care product made by its Garnier division. Only BBR would do, I guess – because they are worth it – to play on L´Oreal´s because you are worth it ads. But, why?
And this for me is the most troubling aspect of this case. The BBR move by L´Oreal hints at a much larger and disquieting issue in French society. Yes, racism, this is very obvious but much more than that it is brand of racism that operates not just on the fringes of society but at its heart – in the labour and retail markets – while at the same time managing to remain in the shadows .
How is it that this BBR policy that so pervades the French employment and retail markets is only now seeing the light of day?
Like I said, very troubling indeed.
However, a silver lining to all of this is that BBR has now been fully exposed in a court of law. From now on the racial prejudice that operates in the French labour and retail markets can no longer be subject to denials of anecdote or conjecture. The court record stands as an official record by the state that BBR does exist and is a proven fact.
As for L´Oreal, this cannot be good for its brand management. For a company that so fiercely defends its brands, just take a look at its battles with eBay, this was not only a poorly conceived recruitment drive but also incorrectly defended case – this is not to be read as a dig at L´Oreal´s lawyers, not at all, I am sure they represented their client the best way they could, however, I am unreservedly criticizing L´Oreal.
L´Oreal forgot that it´s all about the brand. What they sell is much more than simply a product, it is a lifestyle, it is instant gratification, it is control and it is improved self-confidence through a line of beauty products designed for one thing – to improve the true beauty that is you. Nothing can be allowed tarnish the brand less they lose sales and market share.
If this is the basic market reality of the L´Oreal brand, and for that matter any brand, why would you maintain the spectacle of a public trial for three years with a case that even if it comes out in your favor could still blemish the brand?
There is no doubt that L´Oreal´s PR team is hard at work trying to figure out how to either make this go away or finding an angle on how to spin this. A word to the wise, L´Oreal, you have already been found guilty, it would be an exercise in futility to deny any part of this. In fact such a denial, in whole or in part, direct or indirect, could result in a backlash against the brand. It would be better to fully accept culpability, say sorry and take positive and no doubt public steps in order to combat BBR or other forms of discrimination. That my friend is your angle.