Time to Resolve the Race-Related Standoff in Paris France

Published Dec 24, 2010 10:49 EST

George E. Curry, Charles Steele of the US and Patrick Lozes of France, Mediate Stalemate Between Noted Paris Perfume House of Guerlain and Protesters

After successfully mediating a stalemate in Paris, France between the noted Paris perfume house of Guerlain and protesters upset over a racist comment made by a former company official, Glaudé Productions client George E. Curry, a US  journalist and affirmative action expert, Former Southern Christian Leadership Conference President Charles Steele and Patrick Lozes, president of the Paris-based Council of Black Associations in France, plan to meet in January, 2011 with executives of Moet Hennessy- Louis Vuitton (LVMH), the parent company of Guerlain, in New York and Paris to discuss improving their corporate diversity efforts.

The controversy began October 15, 2010 with a comment Jean-Paul Guerlain, former president of the firm that bears his family`s name, made on French television. Recalling a conversation he had with his wife, Guerlain said: One day I told her ” and I still called her Madame ” “What would seduce you if one was to make a perfume for you?` and she told me, “I love jasmine, rose and sandalwood.` And for once I started working like a nigger. I don`t know if niggers ever worked that hard. ”

There was no general uproar over the comments but Blacks were furious and began marching as the collective No to Guerlain! No to Negrophobia, ” each Saturday in front of Guerlain`s Champs-Elysees boutique and targeted its parent company, LVMH, for a potential international boycott.  After a week of silence, the cosmetic firm issued a statement deploring the intolerable ” comment and said it went against the culture, values, and ethics practiced by the enterprise, which promotes the diversity of talents of all origins. ”

Lozes contacted Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the New York-based National Action Network (NAN).  Outraged by the comments, Sharpton requested a meeting with Bernard Arnault, the CEO of LVMH. Arnault designated Laurent Boillot, president-director general and CEO of Guerlain, and Marc-Antoine Jamet, secretary general of LVMH, to represent him.

Rev. Sharpton, in turn, designated Steele, Curry and Lozes to represent him. Before meeting on Tuesday, December 14, 2010 with LVMH officials, the group representing Rev. Sharpton met with the collective No to Guerlain! No to Negrophobia, ” to get a better understanding of their concerns.

Guerlain subsequently apologized for his remarks, saying in a statement: My words do not reflect in any way my profound thoughts but are due to an inopportune misspeaking which I vividly regret. ”

We are glad that we were able to serve as a bridge between the two sides, ” Steele said. We met with “No to Guerlain! No to Negrophobia,` the group that has been protesting in front of the company every Saturday for six weeks, before meeting with officials of Guerlain and Moet Hennessy-Louis Vuitton (LVMH), its parent company. Because we were able to accurately reflect the community leaders` concerns, we were in a position to end this stand-off. ”

In a joint statement issued at a news conference on December 15, 2010 Steele, Curry and Lozes said: “`We would like thank Mr. Boillot and Mr. Jamet for an extremely productive meeting in which we discussed a number of important issues, including how we can jointly move forward in a manner that will benefit consumers deeply offended by Mr. Guerlain`s remarks. Given the magnitude and complexity of these issues, we knew that we could not solve all of the outstanding issues in one meeting. Both sides were pleased with the amount of progress we were able to make and realize that more work will be needed to attain our mutual goal of having a more diversified workforce.“

In his statement to reporters Lozes said Boillot [president of Guerlain] reiterated his company`s position that the former executive`s comments were deeply offensive.  He [Boillot] pointed out that Jean-Paul Guerlain was working neither as an employee nor as a consultant at the time the repulsive remarks were uttered and therefore the perfume company should not be held responsible for Guerlain`s remarks, ” Lozes said. This is a direct quote that Mr. Boillot made in the meeting: Were Jean-Paul Guerlain working for the company, because of the unacceptable things he`s been saying, he would have been asked to leave the company shortly thereafter. He is not working with us and will not work with us anymore.` That`s a direct quote and we appreciate Mr. Boillot`s willingness to put even more distance between his company and Jean-Paul Guerlain`s obnoxious comments. ”

In the meeting with Curry, Steele and Lozes, the two corporate leaders pledged to improve the company`s diversity efforts. That assurance coupled with receiving a letter from the company that reiterated their decision to not use Jean-Paul Guerlain in the future, prompted Isabelle Boni-Claverie, one of the leaders of the collective No to Guerlain! No to Negrophobia, to send a letter to Boillot notifying him those protesters will halt their weekly demonstrations as long as the company continues to make progress in its diversity efforts.

Curry, author of the book, The Affirmative Action Debate, wrote and served as chief correspondent for the widely-praised television documentary, “Assault on Affirmative Action,” which was aired as part of the “Frontline” series on PBS, stated By no means did our meeting address all of my questions about how the company should craft an effective diversity plan, ” said Curry, whose weekly newspaper column is syndicated to more than 200 newspapers in the U.S. In the time I`ve been in Paris this week, it is clear that many companies here prefer to look at the number of female employees they have on staff and act as though that satisfies all of their diversity needs. Obviously, that`s insufficient and the emphasis should be on expanding representation of all underrepresented groups, not just women. ”

Steele said that by internationalizing the struggle for human rights, he is continuing the work of slain civil rights leaders. Dr. King had just announced that he would be expanding his work in international affairs when he was assassinated in 1968, ” Steele recalled. By coming to France, we are extending his vision. ”

Curry added, I was impressed that company officials acknowledged that in order to have an effective diversity program, they need to establish specific goals and timetables so that they can keep track of whether they are making progress. Of course, that doesn`t mean they will need to use quotas. Instead, they were saying that they want to move beyond mere words and platitudes to make certain the company remains competitive in an increasingly diversified world. Good diversity is good business. ”

*Posted on thesop.org



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