L’Oreal and Adecco’s employment discrimination conviction reveals systemic racism

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The Court of Cassation, June 23, confirmed the condemnation of L’Oreal and Adecco for discriminatory employment practices in France. The two companies only recruited “Blue White Red” (the national colours of France) candidates with the help of a code on their employment cards. This is a major victory for SOS Racism, the association which filed the complaint against this racist practice in 2001. Samuel Thomas, vice president of the association, talks to Afrik-news.com about his association’s fight and what remains to be done.

The association, SOS Racism has won a major victory against employment discrimination. L’Oreal, a Garnier subsidiary, and the employment agency, Adecco, have been found guilty of “offering employment under discriminatory conditions” in 2000. The recruiters, from a subsidiary of Adecco, were instructed to exclude non-European candidates. The code “BBR” (Bleu, Blanc, Rouge: blue, white, red) was used on employment cards to specify that blacks and Arabs were not required for a position.

The association, SOS Racism, filed a complaint against the three companies concerned after discovering a fax sent to agencies, specifying profile details of hostesses wanted for a promotion. L’Oreal insisted on women of French origin aged between 18 and 22 yearsand ranging between sizes 38 and 40. After an initial acquittal, the Court of Appeal and the Court of Cassation has ruled in favour of SOS Racisme, ordering the companies to pay a fine of € 30 000 each as well as damages to the association. The ruling by the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court delivered on 23 June has, however, transferred the case to the Court of Appeal, which is expected to rule on the amount of damages.

Samuel Thomas, vice-president of SOS Racism, sheds more light on the discriminatory practices used by many companies.

Afrik-news.com: SOS Racism led a legal battle against L’Oreal and Adecco. What were the main difficulties you encountered during the trial?

Samuel Thomas:
It was difficult to stand against two very powerful international groups with great public relations tools, who use their power as a shield against any form of legal punishment. The fact that Adecco was an exemplary company that put policies in place to help in the fight against employment discrimination for numerous years made the case absurd. But the hardest part is to gather evidence to show that there is, really, a system of employment discrimination.

Afrik-news.com: In your opinion, what good will the conviction of the two companies make?

Samuel Thomas:
A big difference. It shows that even a large company coan be punished in court. It is, henceforth, not enough to pay-off plaintiffs to settle a matter. It will force all companies to think twice, given that other companies could not be richer than those convicted. This conviction will change the business world. Moreover, the whole group has been sanctioned. This is the first time a client is sanctioned although the discriminatory acts were committed by a middleman. But it should be noted that although the written evidence concerns only Adecco, clients like L’Oreal, the main culprits, give only oral orders that have given them, until now, immunity against prosecution. For example, in another case in Belgium, some one hundred companies that have been found to use the same discriminatory codes in Adecco companies are not worried. In many cases, the wrongdoers do not see what the fuss is all about. The ruling will therefore have a considerable impact.

Afrik-news.com: Are there more cases to come? 

Samuel Thomas:
Yes, several. There is the Adecco food and beverage trial, which has been suspended for eight years now. It involves the recruitment of cooks and waiters by Adecco in the Parisian region. The instruction is completed and an indictment is expected from the public prosecutor this summer. In the affair, fifteen employees complained of a discriminatory code: PR4. It is a very big case which goes back to the year 2000. Some have criticized us for only dealing in cases that date back to 2000, but it is simply because the justice system moves at a snail’s pace … Another case that should be noted is the Daytona company affair. They were convicted June 17 with a severe fine. Recruiters were using coded numbers; 1, 2, 3.4 (for European, North African, black and Asian). In this case, only a paltry sum of € 1000 in damages was paid to SOS Racism. Had it been in the United States, we would have been awarded tens of thousands of dollars! There are other cases, but they are still under the confidentiality of investigations.

Afrik-news.com: How can the magnitude of this phenomenon be measured?

Samuel Thomas:
There are several clues. We can compare the unemployment rate according to the nationality of the unemployed. The gap is too big and glaring not see the evidence of employment discrimination. We also conduct tests. Two large-scale tests have been conducted in France. The first was made on behalf of the International Labor Office (ILO) involving over 2500 companies, in 2007. The results revealed that three out of four companies practice employment discrimination. The second test was conducted by the Center for Strategic Analysis. The same results were reached. Discrimination is practiced in areas where there is a shortage of candidates. Paradoxically, the higher the level cultural backgrounds in an area the stronger the discrimination. In construction, for example, there is a high level of ethnic diversity (not because there is no discrimination, but…) because those companies have no choice. When given a choice, businesses reject applications from non-Europeans in three out of four cases. Various statistics from public (for private) recruitment agencies also throw more light on this phenomenon. Countless people denounce this discrimination, but they feel that their voices will not be heard besides the fear of losing their jobs. It is, however, not through them that we have the best evidence, simply because more often than not the victims themselves are not aware that they have been discriminated against.

Afrik-news.com: Employment discrimination … is it a growing trend?

Samuel Thomas:
It is quite a complex topic. On the one hand, there may be more discrimination in companies where the ‘dose’ of black people is exceeded. In the past, there was no cause for alarm, but the number of candidates from diverse backgrounds is on the increase. For higher positions, like senior executives representing the company’s image, there were no candidates from other backgrounds, and hence no discrimination. But companies are afraid of losing control. On the other hand, employers want immigrants to content themselves with difficult working conditions, lower wages and longer working hours, against the French who claim better conditions. It is difficult to say whether there are more cases of employment discrimination, but there is progress.

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