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Dec 12, 2007

How Did I Miss This Story? - You're worth it - if white. L'Oréal guilty of racism

The French campaign group SOS Racisme brought the case against L'Oréal, the world's largest cosmetics firm, over the campaign in 2000. Garnier France sought saleswomen to demonstrate the shampoo line Fructis Style in supermarkets outside Paris. They sought young women to hand out samples and discuss hairstyling with shoppers.

In July 2000, a fax detailing the profile of hostesses sought by L'Oréal stipulated women should be 18 to 22, size 38-42 (UK size 10-14) and "BBR", the initials for bleu, blanc, rouge, the colours of the French flag. Prosecutors argued that BBR, a shorthand used by the far right, was also a well-known code among employers to mean "white" French people and not those of north African, African and Asian backgrounds.

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. It was hard."

SOS Racisme said hundreds of jobs had been subject to discrimination in the case. Garnier and the recruitment company were initially acquitted last year, but the appeal court yesterday overturned the ruling. A former Garnier head and a senior recruitment agency executive were acquitted.

Anti-racism campaigners in France hailed the ruling. Racial discrimination in employment is a huge problem in France with a recent survey finding three out of four firms preferred white workers.

President Nicolas Sarkozy's new justice minister, Rachida Dati, the first woman of north African origin to hold a ministerial post, has ruled that special departments in prosecutors' offices should be set up to deal with race discrimination.

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