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Guerlain guilty of racism

A Paris court on Thursday found Jean-Paul Guerlain, the former "nose" behind the world-famous perfume brand, guilty of racial insults after televised remarks he made about "negroes" and fined him.

Asked in a 2010 interview about how he created the Samsara scent, Guerlain replied: “For once, I set to work like a negro. I don’t know if negroes have always worked like that, but anyway.”

The court judged that the second part of his reply was racist and fined him €6,000 ($8,000). The maximum it could have imposed was six months in prison and a €22,500 fine.

Guerlain was also ordered to pay €2,000 euros in damages to each of three anti-racist groups that were civil plaintiffs in the case.

The 75-year-old heir to one of the world’s oldest perfume houses was not in court for the verdict of the trial that began last month. His lawyer said he did not know if he would appeal.

Guerlain used the word “negre”, which is also commonly used in France in its other meaning signifying “ghost writer”.

The 2010 incident sparked widespread condemnation, with anti-racism groups saying it highlighted deep prejudice in French society.

Earlier this month French police said they were probing additional accusations that Guerlain made an anti-immigrant rant against Eurostar workers.

Three employees of the high-speed rail firm that links Paris and London made a complaint to police accusing Guerlain of making remarks of a racist nature as they helped the wheelchair-bound pensioner board a train.

Guerlain missed the train from Paris Gare du Nord station and then allegedly launched into a tirade against the three, two of whom were black and the third of Asian origin. 

Guerlain apologised for his televised remarks in 2010 but protests erupted outside the company’s Paris boutique on the Champs Elysees and there were calls for a boycott of Guerlain and its owner, luxury brand giant Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH).

The Guerlain company distanced itself from the remarks, saying his words were “unacceptable” and noting that Guerlain had not been a shareholder in the company since 1996 or on salary since 2002.

Guerlain took over the family perfume house from his grandfather, Jacques, in 1959, by which time he could reportedly recognise 3,000 subtly different smells.

The perfume house was run by the Guerlain family for five generations and created over 300 fragrances since doctor and chemist Pierre Francois Pascal Guerlain opened his first perfume boutique in Paris 183 years ago.

LVMH purchased the company in 1994 and Guerlain remained as master perfumer until he retired in 2002.

During his time at the company he was hailed as one of the great perfume “noses” of the 20th century and created famous scents including Samsara, Nahema and Jardins de Bagatelle.

COURT

French court orders Twitter to reveal anti-hate speech efforts

A French court has ordered Twitter to give activists full access to all its documents relating to efforts to combat racism, sexism and other forms of hate speech on the social network.

French court orders Twitter to reveal anti-hate speech efforts
Photo: Alastair Pike | AFP

Six anti-discrimination groups had taken Twitter to court in France last year, accusing the US social media giant of “long-term and persistent” failures in blocking hateful comments from the site.

The Paris court ordered Twitter to grant the campaign groups full access to all documents relating to the company’s efforts to combat hate speech since May 2020. The ruling applies to Twitter’s global operation, not just France.

Twitter must hand over “all administrative, contractual, technical or commercial documents” detailing the resources it has assigned to fighting homophobic, racist and sexist discourse on the site, as well as “condoning crimes against humanity”.

The San Francisco-based company was given two months to comply with the ruling, which also said it must reveal how many moderators it employs in France to examine posts flagged as hateful, and data on the posts they process.

The ruling was welcomed by the Union of French Jewish Students (UEJF), one of the groups that had taken the social media giant to court.

“Twitter will finally have to take responsibility, stop equivocating and put ethics before profit and international expansion,” the UEJF said in a statement on its website.

Twitter’s hateful conduct policy bans users from promoting violence, or threatening or attacking people based on their race, religion, gender identity or disability, among other forms of discrimination.

Like other social media businesses it allows users to report posts they believe are hateful, and employs moderators to vet the content.

But anti-discrimination groups have long complained that holes in the policy allow hateful comments to stay online in many cases.

French prosecutors on Tuesday said they have opened an investigation into a wave of racist comments posted on Twitter aimed at members of the country’s national football team.

The comments, notably targeting Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, were posted after France was eliminated from the Euro 2020 tournament last week.

France has also been having a wider public debate over how to balance the right to free speech with preventing hate speech, in the wake of the controversial case of a teenager known as Mila.

The 18-year-old sparked a furore last year when her videos, criticising Islam in vulgar terms, went viral on social media.

Thirteen people are on trial accused of subjecting her to such vicious harassment that she was forced to leave school and was placed under police protection.

While President Emmanuel Macron is among those who have defended her right to blaspheme, left-wing critics say her original remarks amounted to hate speech against Muslims.

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