L’Oréal: Beauty for Everyone?

Posted: May 6, 2015

by Emma Fivek, Ciara Hovis, Madison Miller and Kaitlyn Spangler


Eugene Schueller, a man with a business-driven attitude, began selling his basic chemical hair dye to Parisian hairdressers in 1909. Thereafter, a group of researchers and entrepreneurs followed Schueller and set out to revolutionize the industry of beauty.  The commercialization of cosmetic products took hold in the post-war attitude of women across the world; they were looking to flaunt their newly acclaimed economic empowerment during an era of Rosie the Riveter and increasing autonomy of women. The hair dyes, lipsticks, and cream foundations were equated to greater freedom and independence, exemplified in the 1933 publication of Votre Beaute.  Created by Schueller, this magazine sought to influence the appearance needs and standards of women in this era (“L'Oréal's history”). In its 105-year history, through corporate model adjustments, international partnerships, and incomparable power in the market, L’Oréal has flourished into a modern multi-billion dollar company. Eugene Schueller’s once basic chemical hair dye now dominates the global beauty scene.

L’Oréal’s rapid industrial progression epitomizes the cosmetics industry as a whole; many other contemporary companies emerged with similar ease. For example, the global giant Unilever gathered speed and power on the global stage during the expansion of mass production capabilities and advertising advancements of the 1930s and 1940s (Wilkins, M., & Wilson, C., n.d.). Unilever, Procter and Gamble, and other corporate conglomerates experienced economies of scale, reaping the benefits during the era of the post-World War II industrial efficiency. L’Oréal, now the leading cosmetics company in the world, went through a similar transformation; yet, questions of corporate responsibility, transparency, and equitable wealth distribution arose (Sustainable Development Report, 2013). With the global beauty industry’s total sales reaching more than 200 billion dollars (Wynne, 2014) and L’Oréal holding 11.36% of the global market share among the top five leading corporations ( L’Oréal, 2013b), L’Oréal’s dominant presence is irrefutable, but this is not without controversy.

From its French origins, L’Oréal has expanded to market products in 130 countries with sales of 22.98 Billion Euros (28.63 Billion Dollars) . The L’Oréal company has a vast profile of products and brands to cater to an increasingly diverse customer base. With 28 international brands (L’Oréal, 2013b), L’Oréal facilitates a global flow of standardized products to countries around the world, contributing to expansive Westernization from multinational corporations (MNCs). It also maintains brands specialized to certain markets. For example, L’Oréal has acquired Magic Holdings, a Chinese company leading in cosmetic facial masks, in order to please new Asian consumers (L’Oréal, 2013b). While L’Oréal continues to expand in emerging markets, it persistently innovates, and in 2013, registered 624 patents (L’Oréal, 2013b). Throughout their global value chain, L’Oréal employs 77,500. Its superiority in manufacturing, supply chain logistics, finance, sales, marketing, administration, and operations beats competitors including Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Estée Lauder, and Shiseido.

With the rampant rise of the global cosmetic industry and L’Oréal’s consistent spot at the top of the market, L’Oréal plays an important role in globalization, while affecting people around the world. In 2013, world cosmetics market growth increased by 3.8% (L’Oréal, 2013b). Despite previously difficult economic periods, L’Oréal and the entire cosmetic industry remain resilient, revealing how beauty products have become a perceived necessity for many women around the world. According to L’Oréal’s Annual Report, “the beauty market is set to double in size in the next ten to fifteen years,” with all regions of the world projected to grow (L’Oréal, 2013b, p. 18). As the global markets continue to evolve, the consumer demands will also evolve: “more than half of consumers will be located in tropical zones, with hot, humid climates; and by 2020, some 60% of the world’s population will live in major urban centers affected by pollution” (L’Oréal, 2013b, p. 19). Not only will the increasing access to L’Oréal products affect people in new markets, but employment opportunities and benefits will emerge at costs to communities and the environment. The increasing demand for L’Oréal products implicates increased production, requiring increased labor force, heightened extraction of environmental resources, greater fuel and energy consumption to transport products, and more resources to carry out corporate operations. L’Oréal typifies the strong impacts of MNCs on people throughout the world.

The Beauty Mindset

Although it is a large MNC, the benefits and adoption of these cosmetic products has been concentrated in Western Europe and the United States, namely the developed world (“L'Oréal's history”).  Public acceptance of the beauty industry has a strong correlation to social status of the sex (Brandon, 2011). Dependent upon the woman’s role, empowerment, and social mobility, her expectations for beauty and appearance can vastly differ. For example, if a woman’s job is predominantly based on maintaining the household and caring for the children, cosmetic beauty is not as highly prioritized. However, if a woman has the ability to establish an individual career and must uphold societal expectations of class and elegance, there is greater priority and appreciation for what the cosmetics industry can provide.

This phenomenon is precisely what was occurring in Western Europe post World War II. Women who had filled the roles of their husbands in the workforce during the war were newly empowered and independent; this autonomic mindset encouraged a stronger pursuit of youth and glamour. Similarly, they were rising in social class and putting emphasis on activities and material goods outside the domestic sphere. This fueled the rapid expanse and power of L’Oréal: the ability to strongly affect the mindsets and attitudes of women and men in an era of redevelopment and growth.

Therefore, from 1988 to present, after buying Helena Rubinstein, Inc. and undergoing new management by Owen Jones, the basic hair dyes of Schueller turned into a multifaceted industry of countless cosmetic products to complement the growing demands of empowered women (Brandon, 2011). Yet, this industry was still concentrated in Western Europe, Canada, and the United States because these areas had the highest percentage of upper class citizens and the ability to adopt this new attitude toward dependency on cosmetic enhancement (Brandon, 2011). Even though L’Oréal was being tagged as a multinational giant, developing nations did not receive the diversity and quality of products as the developed.  L’Oréal has faced challenges in globalizing to the developing world, as the developing world did not share the same values as the developed world, nor did the wealth status of these populations enable them to purchase what L’Oréal was offering.

The concentration of L’Oréal’s influence stirs a great deal of questions about branding ethics, supply logistics, and wealth distribution. Holistically, as this company developed in a small cohort of wealthy and developed cities and accumulated vast amounts of wealth, how truly global were its influences and how is this changing? Due to L’Oréal’s undeniable impact on a globalizing world, it is necessary to take a further look into where it get its resources, how products are made, who receives them, and what controversies have arisen in the process.

Supply Chain

L'Oréal’s impact on communities throughout the world is facilitated through the corporation’s global supply chain. L'Oréal has 43 plants across the globe ( L’Oréal, 2013b), with 150 distribution centers (Van Marle, 2014). The corporation’s marketing and supply chain approach involves segmenting products based on the distribution channel. Products are divided into four categories: “professional products that are sold to hairdressers; consumer products that are sold on the high street [downtown business districts]; the L’Oréal Luxe brand offered at department stores; and the active cosmetics products that are sold through pharmacies” (Van Marle, 2014, p. 1). Therefore, L'Oréal takes a comprehensive approach to viewing their global flows and considers their impact on people from the consumers to manufacturers, especially by placing a priority on proximity to markets.

L'Oréal’s flow of information determines the product supply chain, as well as the marketing of beauty products - which often represent Western standards of beauty - in new markets. L'Oréal has adopted Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) technology, which allows for great increases in openness and visibility across the entire corporation. ERP, the new information technology database management system, allows for employees all over the globe to view information on a single platform through the cloud in order to track inventory levels and consumer demand and to create sales forecasts from the shared data (Van Marle, 2014). Not only does the global flow of information help L'Oréal to increase profits through improved pricing and marketing strategies, but it also facilitates increased collaboration with players across the global value chain. Therefore, “all supply chain participants are able to work together to identify, evaluate, and resolve disruptions more quickly and reliably” (Markoff, 2013, p. 7).

L'Oréal is aggressively pursuing new markets, hoping to capture one billion new customers within the next two years, especially in China, Brazil, and India (Wheatley, 2013). In order to expand markets in Asian countries, L'Oréal strategically created the company’s largest factory in Indonesia in 2012. The factory is designed to “produce 500 million products a year for the Asian market” (Wheatley, 2013, p. 1). Political flows underride the creation of L'Oréal’s Indonesian factory, as Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyonoi and French President Francois Hollande “committed to enhance bilateral cooperation with Indonesia on trade, investment, education and defense,” including authorization for a L'Oréal LEED certified factory in Jababeka, Tangerang (Projecting Indonesia, 2013b, p. 1). Amounting to roughly 100 million Euros, or 1.25 trillion Rupiahs, L'Oréal’s investment in Indonesia will impact people living in Indonesia by creating construction, manufacturing, and factory labor opportunities. Additionally, L'Oréal stated that the company “will train tens of thousands of hairdressers all over Indonesia” (Projecting Indonesia, 2013b, p. 1), which not only provides citizens with a new set of skills, but also adds to the professional product distribution segment of L’Oréal’s supply chain. While 30% of the factory’s output will be sold in Indonesia, 70% of the factory’s output will service the ASEAN countries (Projecting Indonesia, 2013b).

While many MNCs often face public scrutiny and criticism over their labor practices in developing nations, L'Oréal works to overcome the labor challenges of globalization. L’Oreal uses their corporate values as a guide for interacting with manufacturers and suppliers, but does not operate under one set of ethical labor codes. Rather, L’Oreal adapts to the diverse country-specific labor standards. In line with its hopes of expanding the Asian market through the Indonesian factory, L'Oréal also recently awarded a fellowship to an Indonesian woman scientist. In 1988, the L'Oréal Foundation and UNESCO created the ‘For Women in Science’ partnership to support women researchers globally in order to increase the participation of women in science fields. Specifically, “the fellowship is reserved to young women scientists whose research projects have a potential impact on human well-being and the environment” (Projecting Indonesia, 2013a, p. 1). While it is likely not a coincidence that one of the 2013 winners is an Indonesian citizen, it is beneficial for both the scholarship recipient and L'Oréal, as L'Oréal benefits from a positive image in the view of an emerging Indonesian cosmetic market.

L'Oréal confronts challenges regarding treatment of over 77,500 employees throughout the global supply chain (L'Oréal, 2013b). However, the company falls short in recognizing workers throughout the supply chain beyond the corporate offices. With several initiatives to increase benefits to L'Oréal’s corporate employees, L'Oréal is able to have a positive impact on the lives of workers. For instance L'Oréal’s “Share and Care” program has initiated policies to benefit employees, such as allowing all mothers to receive 14 weeks of maternity leave on full pay (“Careers at L'Oréal”, 2014). Additionally, the program enables subsidiaries to create programs according to the feedback from workers, which have led to budgets dedicated to fund yoga, Zumba, a squash club, and even music lessons for staff (Fox, 2013). Although the company prides itself on its “Share and Care” program, the benefits vary depending on the country of the worker. Additionally while the company sources materials and manufactures products across the globe, L'Oréal does not provide audits or reports on the treatment of factory workers or the workers of suppliers. L'Oréal does not account for these workers in employee rights policies. How can consumers be sure that L'Oréal ensures fair treatment of all employees if the company does not release information on the workers in sourcing and manufacturing?

A Look Into Human Rights Issues

Mica Mining

Makeup’s glitter isn’t as shiny as it may seem. The secret behind glittery foundation, blush, and other goods in the cosmetic industry is mica. Mica is a mineral used not only in makeup but in nail polish, car paint and electronic chips (Doherty & Whyte, 2014). Sixty percent of this mineral is mined in India (Nesbitt, 2014). Many major cosmetic companies, including L’Oréal, source mica from India. The dark side of this shiny mineral is child labor. Child labor is a global issue affecting many developing countries, including India. According to Unicef, thirteen percent of children around the world (excluding children in China) aged five to fourteen are entrenched in child labor. In India, twelve percent of children aged five to fourteen are engaged in child labor (UNICEF, 2014). Since the mica industry is largely unregulated in India, tracking child labor in the mica market is difficult (Nesbitt, 2014). The lengthy and intricate supply chain that most companies go through to get their mica makes it very difficult to be sure that there is no child labor involved throughout this process.

According to DanWatch, an independent Danish watchdog media group that conducts investigative journalism on global issues, much of the world’s mica supplies are illegally mined in two states in eastern India, Jharkhand and Bihar (Lendal, Rosholm & Ulsøe, 2014). Illegal mining activities are extensive. The country reported producing 15,000 tons of mica in 2011 but exported 130,000 tons (Doherty & Whyte, 2014). The extra 115,000 tons were mined illegally (Doherty & Whyte, 2014). Much of this illegal mining is conducted by children (Lendal et al., 2014). According to Jharkhand’s state commission for the protection of children’s rights, and the children’s rights group Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), an estimated 5,000 children work in these mines from a young age (Lendal et al., 2014). Both groups admit that there is no real way of validating this number (Lendal et al., 2014).

During its investigation DanWatch met with families whose children work in the mines and “observed children as young as 5 years [old] work for hours in the mines” (Lendal et al., 2014 p. 12). Children working in illegal mica mines in Bihar earn about 1.4 Euros a day compared to the 2.7 Euros that workers make per day in the legal mica mines (Lendal et al., 2014). Many children involved in these mines are not able to go to school because their families depend upon the money their children make mining this precious mineral for food and other necessities (Lendal et al., 2014).

As previously mentioned, due to the nature of the supply chain, it is difficult to determine if child labor is involved in the mica that L’Oréal buys. However, based on the findings of the DanWatch report on mica mining, it is likely that child labor is involved. According to the report, mica is bought by exporters from intermediaries that get the mica from illegal mines and who do not check to make sure child labor is not used (Lendal et al., 2014). In turn, L’Oréal buys its mica supplies from Merck, a German pharmaceutical and chemical company, and Kuncai, a Chinese chemical company, who get their mica from the aforementioned exporters (Lendal et al., 2014 ). To ensure that there is no child labor in the mica supply chain, Merck uses social auditing (Nesbitt, 2014). Social auditing involves hiring outside firms to assess the mine to ensure that there is no forced child labor (Nesbit, 2014). Merck has hired Environmental Resource Management, a human resources consulting firm, to check on the mines every month (Nesbitt, 2014). Merck has utilized this practice since 2007 (Nesbitt, 2014). Kuncai, on the other hand, does not require their suppliers to be child labor free (Lendal et al., 2014). This leaves one to question how L’Oréal could assure that child labor is not used to mine the mica used in their products.

Merck’s methods for ensuring that their mica is mined legally have been criticized by the director of Anti-Slavery International, who says that the audits “often miss bigger issues” and are “engineered to ignore them [the issues]” (Nesbitt, 2014, p. 1). This could mean that child labor goes unnoticed or is easily covered up. In addition, the mica exporters interviewed for the DanWatch report who sell their mica to Merck and Kuncai reported that they get their mica from illegal mines in Bihar and Jharkhand (Lendal et al., 2014). This means that child laborers are most likely involved in the mining of the mica sold to the two chemical companies that eventually sell mica to L’Oréal.

Although it would be unfair to conclude that child labor definitely plays a role in the mica behind the glitter in some of L’Oréal’s products, the information from the article in The Guardian and the evidence from the DanWatch report leads one to make a connection. Despite efforts by Merck to ensure this is not the case, the connections to the illegal mines where child labor is widespread lead the Danwatch report to conclude that “This means that it is very likely that child labor lies behind the mica in L’Oréal make-up” (Lendal et al., 2014, p. 17).

There is little question that child labor is a worldwide problem that is not limited to L’Oréal or the cosmetic industry as a whole. The problem likely persists due to the broader issue of global poverty. All of the stories cited in the DanWatch report and the Al Jazeera article noted that the families of the child laborers are dependent on the income generated by their children and thus cannot afford to send their children to school. Although companies such as Merck and Estée Lauder have worked with the BBA to create child labor- free villages, the issue of children not going to school due to work still persists in India and elsewhere (Lendal et al., 2014).

Child labor issues are a symptomatic experience of companies like L’Oréal as they become increasingly global and as their supply chains span across more countries. This issue is especially prominent in less developed countries like India, amongst many others (UNICEF, 2014). The illegal mica mining performed by children is fueled by soaring consumer demand for “natural” makeup, driven by findings which linked synthetic makeup to illness such as cancer (Pandey, 2014).

Cultural Insensitivity?

Child labor is not the only issue L’Oréal has faced in the process of globalization. The company has faced charges of racism on at least one major occasion. On July 5, 2007, Garnier Fructis, a hair care line division of L’Oréal, was fined 30,000 Euros for systematic racism (Chrisafis, 2007). Garnier reportedly only recruited white women of a certain build to promote their products outside of grocery stores in and around Paris, France (Chrisafis, 2007). In a fax sent in 2000 with instructions about whom to hire for the open positions, the term “BBR” was employed to describe the kind of women wanted by Garnier to promote their products (Chrisafis, 2007). According to the article, BBR is shorthand commonly known in the industry to mean “white” (Chrisafis, 2007). An employee of a recruitment firm working for Garnier at the time, stated that candidates with “foreign-sounding names or photos showing a candidate was of Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian or other African origin would ensure candidates were eliminated” (Chrisafis, 2007, p. 1). A former employee of Districom, another firm working for L’Oréal at the time, claimed that one of her superiors said, “I’m tired of Christine and her Arabs” after the employee had presented non-white candidates for positions at L’Oréal (Chrisafis, 2007, p. 1). According to the article, 40% of women recruited for similar promotional positions in similar situations are non-white, while less than 4% of women recruited for the Garnier promotion project were non-white (Chrisafis, 2007). L’Oréal was the first major company to be charged and fined for systematic racism in France (Chrisafis, 2007). However, according to the director of L’Observoire des Descriminations (Observatory of discrimination), who was interviewed for an article in the French newspaper, Le Monde, L’Oréal does not show many signs of discriminatory practices, especially since 2000 when the racial discrimination was reportedly committed (Brafman, 2007).

Eight years after the occurrence of the first incident of racism, L’Oréal again faced criticism. The cosmetics giant reportedly lightened Beyoncé Knowles’ skin in an advertisement for L’Oréal Paris Féria hair color that appeared in multiple magazines including Elle, Allure and Essence, in the US (Sweney, 2008). L’Oréal denied the allegations, stating that they “highly value their relationship with Ms. Knowles” (Sweney, 2008). The public was not convinced by L’Oréal’s claim, as the singer’s skin appeared several shades lighter than in other pictures of her (Sweney, 2008, p. 1). No legal action came of the incident. From this isolated incident, significant questioning of just how inclusive and culturally diverse L’Oreal’s products are have become a major topic in a globalizing industry. 

Environment and Health

The environment is something that is inevitably affected by globalization. Its complex systems and features are interconnected, which makes it susceptible to harm from seemingly inconsequential perturbations . There are two aspects to L'Oréal’s environmental impact: human health and natural resources. The human body, whether admitted or not, is extremely apt to taking in the chemicals that are commonly used in cosmetics, including those produced by L'Oréal. Many of the chemicals known to be detrimental to human health, such as lead, mercury, and formaldehyde, are still allowed in personal care products with little to no restrictions (Haiken, 2012). In 2009, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a study that tested lead levels in lipsticks and found that all of the lipsticks contained levels of lead ranging from 0.09-3.06ppm. L'Oréal was one of among the highest offenders, holding five out of the ten most lead-contaminated brands. However, the FDA has yet to take any action to protect consumers (“Lead”, 2009).

Despite the fact that cosmetics are applied to human bodies daily, there is little global regulation on their ingredients. Another challenge that has emerged from the globalization of L'Oréal’s cosmetic regime is the differing regulation policies between and amongst countries. Some countries are not as stringent in their chemical ingredient restrictions, including the U.S., whose regulatory system is much more relaxed than the European counterpart. The World Health Organization itself sees the need for more encompassing definitions and regulations for the world’s drug and cosmetics industries (Ratanawijitrasin and Wondemagegnehu, 2004). Until then, however, there is the question as to what set of restrictions L'Oréal will use as a standard for product safety. For example, the use of parabens in cosmetics is highly controversial. Parabens are preservatives added to products that have been found to be linked to cancer, breast cancer in specific (Harvey and Darbre 2004; Gocke et al, 1981). According to its own website, the Food and Drug Administration of the United States asserts that “The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act does not authorize the FDA to approve cosmetic ingredients...cosmetic manufacturers may use any ingredient they choose, except for a few ingredients that are prohibited by regulation” (Parabens, 2014, p. 1). Among these chosen ingredients are parabens, as well as several other controversial chemicals. The use of parabens however are much more restrictive in places like the European Union, where certain parabens are banned and their concentrations regulated (“EU to ban”, 2013). Despite the clear concerns of the EU, L'Oréal has many products that still contain parabens, including those that have been banned (Hauge, 2004). The discrepancies of ingredient safety that vary from country to country are significant. It may be in L'Oréal’s interest to take that into account and abide by one set of regulations that obey the strictest policies for the good of their consumers around the world.

Another environmental issue of concern with L'Oréal is their impact on the natural resources that they use as ingredients in their products. Humans have been using the properties of plants and animals for ages for cosmetic advantages, but as the beauty industry industrialized, the impacts on the Earth’s resources intensified (Bled, 2011). While the toxicity of ingredients in cosmetics is more pertinent to the public, the subject of biodiversity loss is a top concern among scientists. A reduction in the biodiversity of our planet will result in an increase in its instability, thus putting humans in a more precarious state (Diaz et al., 2006). Additionally, the populations that will be affected first by this loss are the most economically vulnerable and whose situations will only worsen with the effects of biodiversity loss.

A pertinent example today is the use of palm oil in cosmetics and the consequences of its large scale production, especially in Indonesia (“What’s the Issue?). As a result of the unsustainable development of palm oil plantations, a third of the mammal species in Indonesia are critically endangered. The orangutan is one of the most famous victims of this environmental atrocity. Over 90% of its habitat has been destroyed by the palm oil industry and its populations are crashing, as are the populations of those species that rely on interactions with this primate (“What’s the Issue?”). Additionally, humans are also suffering from the monopolization of the palm oil industry, whether it be that their land was seized for the production of this commodity or that they are forced to work for these plantations as there are no other viable job options. Many of the workers include the young of this species, as well, who typically receive little to no compensation for their toil (“What’s the Issue?”). With palm oil being only one of the many so-called natural ingredients that L’Oréal uses in its products to meet the demand of its ever-growing eco-conscious customer pool, one should question the actual impact these elements have on not only human faces, but also the face of the planet.


As we have discussed, L'Oréal is a modern-day multinational powerhouse, accumulating power over the past 100 years. Yet, despite its profitable success today, it has run into to some controversial dilemmas and ethically questionable situations during this growth. From the founder, Eugene Schueller, coming under fire for being a Nazi sympathizer during the World War II era (Zohar, 1996), to animal testing investigations, and skin-lightening accusations, L'Oréal’s corporate foundation faced instability . Through research and investigation of some of the key issues surrounding this world leader in the beauty industry, a myriad of criticisms, compliments, and questions arise. As with many multinational corporations, the transparency of its supply chain and business ethics proves relatively weak, the accountability of its statements on sustainability and fairness is dubious, and its efforts at globalizing beauty have been inconsistent. As consumers, informed citizens, and members of the globalizing generation, it is pertinent to dissect these issues through its strengths and weaknesses, setting expectations of corporate-social responsibility for an increasingly incorporated world of beauty.

As we consider L'Oréal’s global impact on human rights, we recognize many areas in which the corporation has excelled, while there also remain several holes in information and execution of ethical employee treatment. For example, with L'Oréal’s Share and Care employee benefit program, the corporation states: “All of our employees will soon be able to take advantage of the best social benefits in their country” (“Careers at L’Oreal”, 2014, p. 1) At first glance, the program appears flawless, however, the program highlights a key point of discussion about the corporation’s global presence. Why has L'Oréal not developed standard ethical employee treatment policies across countries, rather than changing requirements to meet the status quo of each country? By recognizing that employees across cultures have different standards and demands, L'Oréal may be able to globalize effectively. However, if L'Oréal were to introduce baseline ethical standards for employee treatment across countries, the corporation would be able to simultaneously uphold ethical values and allow for specialization according to local differences.

While L'Oréal celebrates its accolades in terms of employee treatment and engagement, much of L'Oréal’s workforce remains unnamed and unrepresented in company performance audits. Although L'Oréal maintains an Ethics Charter to which company buyers must adhere (L’Oréal, 2013c), L'Oréal lacks a code of ethics to ensure fair treatment of all workers connected to its global supply chain. For instance, the company evades addressing illegal mica mining in the cosmetic industry. Without having stringent international policies to ensure ethical and safe treatment of workers in manufacturing and raw materials sourcing, L'Oréal poses the possibility of negatively affecting many developing nations. Beyond the possibility of poor worker treatment, the company does not release information about wages and benefits given to these workers. Even after calling L'Oréal’s corporate office in New Jersey, we were not given any additional insight on this issue. Considering the lack of public information on worker treatment beyond the corporate level, the question remains: should L'Oréal be doing more to ensure positive global development?

Positive global development is difficult to define.  Yet, L'Oréal’s corporate system provides a basis to further investigate issues of cultural sensitivity, business ethics, and proactivity versus reactivity to worldly issues. Although L’Oréal’s bouts with racism seem to have been few and far between up until this point, it has become a broader issue in the beauty industry as a whole. The cosmetics industry operates on western standards of beauty, and relies on these ideals for success (Chung, 2014). This industry promulgates these ideals because they profit from the products that promote western ideas of beauty (Chung, 2014). One of the most pervasive western beauty ideals is fair, white skin (Chung, 2014). This ideal has caused the skin whitening industry to flourish into a thirteen billion dollar business in the Asia Pacific (Chung, 2014). L’Oréal, amongst other major cosmetics players, like Ponds, has engaged in the industry with an entire line named “White Perfect” (Habib, 2009). This line is sold in India, where the quest for fairer skin is deeply rooted in the country’s history, including the tumultuous period of British colonization (Habib, 2009). Companies such as L’Oréal take advantage of people’s desire for fair skin to make a profit (Habib, 2009). This industry is fueled by the concept that fairer skin is superior to darker skin, an idea that dates back to slavery and colonialism and is referred to today by the term “colorism” (Chung, 2014). Historically, France has been active in colonizing countries mainly in North and West Africa, and racism remains deeply ingrained in some parts of the country today. The link between colorism, France’s colonial history, and the Garnier incident outlined above is clear. More than fifty years after France was forced to give independence to Algeria, its last colony, the country still struggles with racist tendencies towards people of North and Sub Saharan African origin (Stille, 2013). L’Oréal is not an exception to this tendency towards discrimination, as the Garnier division did not want non-white people to represent its products to potential consumers (Chrisafis, 2007). However, this incident took place nearly fifteen years ago. Have there been other instances of racial discrimination in L’Oréal’s recent history? As there have not been any recent allegations of racial issues, is it possible that the world’s largest cosmetics company could have the resources to cover their tracks?

Due to past actions and current products, does L’Oréal contribute to the advancement of western beauty ideals as is symptomatic of the cosmetics industry today? Regardless of the answer, the promotion of the double eye lid and fair skin, two western beauty ideals, can be considered a form of cultural imperialism maintained through aggressive advertising that demonstrates how people, especially women, should look in order to be considered
beautiful. L’Oréal has taken steps to enhance representation of different types of beauty from all around the world by hiring a diverse group of spokesmodels from the United States, France, The Netherlands, Ethiopia, and India (Experts and Spokesmodels, 2014). However, according to L'Oréal, seven of the thirteen spokes models are considered to have a fair skin tone, five have a medium skin tone, and only one has a deep skin tone (Experts and Spokesmodels, 2014). In addition, all but two of the spokesmodels are natives of western countries, mostly from the United States. While L’Oréal seems to be headed in a positive direction, it could make a larger effort to have a more culturally and racially diverse set of representatives to better account for different standards of beauty instead of promoting the western beauty ideals through their corporate activities and agendas.

In October of 2013, L’Oréal announced its Sustainability Commitment Plan called “Sharing Beauty With All” which outlines the necessary steps that the corporation will be taking to reach certain milestones by the year 2020 (“L’Oréal announces”, 2013). These milestones include innovating so that 100% of their products are beneficial to either the environment or society, as well as empowering its  customers to make socially responsible purchases by providing the sustainability footprint of all their products. Additionally, they are committing to reducing their environmental footprint by 60%, while reaching one billion new consumers across the globe. Finally, they have a goal to modify their development strategies to be more sustainable environmentally and socially. L’Oréal chooses suppliers that have committed to a high social and environmental performance. Also, it is dedicated to providing more benefits for its current employees, as well as adding opportunities for more than 100,000 people in underprivileged communities (“L’Oréal announces, 2013).

With such lofty goals, it is questionable as to whether L’Oréal will be able to achieve them. Even when environmental threats are identified, it is not feasible for it to make a complete turnaround immediately. For example, polyethylene micro-beads, which are popular in facial exfoliating scrubs, have been found to be polluting waterways and subsequently aquatic ecosystems (Fendall and Sewell, 2009). This discovery took place five years ago, and L’Oréal has just announced last year its plan to phase out these beads by 2017 (“L’Oréal Commits”, 2012). With such a slow reaction, this cosmetics leader is far from expeditious in its reactions to environmental concerns.

L’Oréal’s domination of the beauty industry prompts consumers to question the corporation’s responsibility as a leader in luxury brands. According to a study done by the World Wildlife Federation called “Deeper Luxury,” L’Oréal tops the list of the ten luxury names they analyzed with an underwhelming “C+” (Bendell and Kleanthous, 2007). While it is technically the best in the business in environmental treatment, there are substantial improvements L’Oreal can make in order to achieve a more sustainable supply network that both benefits the environment and the developing global society as a whole.

Concluding Thoughts

An investigation of L’Oréal has illustrated a glimpse of the business behind the lipstick, eyeshadow, and moisturizer. From its supply chain throughout countries such as France, Indonesia, Kenya, the United States, to their expanding markets in Asia, East Africa, and other tropical zones (“L’Oréal’s History”), this cosmetic corporation embodies the processes and flows of globalization in the modern age. As it leads the markets and impressively expands, its corporate responsibility must be critically considered . By proclaiming the tagline “Beauty for Everyone,” it is pertinent to question the reality and truth behind this assertion. Although its development from upper class women in Western Europe and the U.S. established a strong base of economically powerful and ethnically similar consumers, the current spread of information, resources, and culture no longer permits this limited consumer base. Therefore, as L’Oréal grows and adapts to these changing global demands, it is progressively appropriate to ask what L’Oréal contributes to the standards of beauty and where they are falling short. If beauty is really for everyone, product diversity, availability, and sourcing must reflect this statement.


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