L'Oreal offers new job to black transgender model sacked over race remarks

MILAN, June 9 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - French cosmetics company L'Oreal said on Tuesday it regretted sacking a black transgender model in 2017 after she described all white people as racist, and offered her a new job helping to shape the firm's diversity policies.

Protests against the death of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, at the hands of police in the United States have sparked a global debate about racial inequalities - putting pressure on major brands to do more to bring about change.

L'Oreal's sacking of Munroe Bergdorf faced renewed scrutiny last week, as the firm shared a post expressing solidarity with the black community that some social media users - including Bergdorf - said was at odds with its earlier actions.

On Tuesday, however, L'Oreal Paris brand President Delphine Viguier said she had offered Bergdorf a seat on a newly formed UK diversity and inclusion advisory board, a role accepted by the British model.

"I understand much better the pain and trauma that were behind Munroe's words back then and the urgency she felt to speak in defense of the Black community against systemic racism," Viguier said in a statement posted on social media.

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I wanted to give @lorealparis 48 hours before writing this to see if a public apology was possible. But their choice to ignore me and not acknowledge the emotional, mental and professional harm that they caused me since sacking me in 2017, after speaking out about white supremacy and racism, speaks volumes. So does their choice to not engage with the thousands of black community members and allies who have left comments of concern on their last two posts, in response to their claim to support the black community, despite an evident history of being unwilling to talk about the issues that black people face globally because of white supremacy. Black Lives Matter is a movement for the people, by the people. It is not here to be co-opted for capital gain by companies who have no intention of actually having difficult conversations regarding white supremacy, police brutality, colonialism and systemic racism. It cannot be reduced to a series of corporate trends by brands like L'Oréal who have no intention of actually doing the work to better themselves or taking ownership of their past mistakes or conscious acts of racial bias. I would not have been sacked if I had said what I said and was a cisgender, straight, white woman. It just wouldn't have happened. If you want to stand with black lives matter then get your own house in order first. This could have been a moment of redemption for L'Oréal, a chance for them to make amends and lead by example. We all get things wrong, we all make mistakes, but it's where you go from there that is a signifier of who you are. L'Oréal claiming to stand with the black community, yet also refusing to engage with the community on this issue, or apologise for the harm they caused to a black female queer transgender employee, shows us who they are - just another big brand who seeks to capitalise from a marginalised movement, by widening their audience and attempting to improve their public image. Brands need to be aware of their own track record. It's unacceptable to claim to stand with us, if the receipts show a history of silencing black voices. Speaking out can’t only be “worth it” when you’re white. Black voices matter.

A post shared by MUNROE (she/they) (@munroebergdorf) on Jun 3, 2020 at 9:34am PDT

"I regret the lack of dialog and support the company showed Munroe around the time of the termination. We should have also done more to create a conversation for change as we are now doing."

Bergdorf, who was fired days after becoming the first transgender model to appear on a British advertising campaign for the company, said it "feels good to have finally closure on this matter."

"I hope this reconciliation is proof that we can all find a way to put aside our differences and work together to push for a more progressive, fair and equal world," she wrote on Instagram.

The London-based model and activist said L'Oreal had also committed to contributing 25,000 euros ($28,000) each to transgender charity Mermaids and LGBT+ group UK Black Pride. ($1 = 0.8807 euros) (Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)