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Celebrating beauty from within

L’OREAL is not just in the business of making people around the world look good and feel good.

It has also taken on the daunting challenge to be good.

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In 2000, the billion-dollar company decided to integrate ethics into its corporate culture, in the hopes of creating a multinational and multilocal company that does the right things the right way.

Emmanuel Lulin, chief ethics officer of L’oreal, told the Inquirer during his recent visit to the Philippines “that a company with a strong ethical culture is worth more and is more sustainable than a company with weak ethics.”

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The global company employs over 80,000 employees spread across 130 countries.

He said four core principles guide employees to “help them make sound business decisions,” namely respect, integrity, courage and transparency.

“Respect means that each person must be accountable to the effect of their decision on others. While integrity is what they do when no one is watching. Courage is needed to challenge the status quo. And transparency means that there must be sincerity and faithfulness in every aspect,” said Lulin.

Being in the cosmetics industry, the company naturally expounds on the value of taking care of and enhancing external features.

But for Lulin, real beauty comes from the inside, and this applies to corporations, too. “What we intend to do is be responsible to our consumers, company and fellow employees. Overall, [that is the] spirit of ethics,” he said.

The company also professes “zero tolerance” for corruption, sexual harassment and bullying.

It all boils down to the basic tenet of treating each other with respect, said Lulin.

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In L’oreal, ethics strengthens the link among teammates.

Lines of communication are always open.

Managers are urged to actively listen while subordinates are encouraged to freely speak their minds.

From Australia to Canada, effective communication is vital “to give the message of our code of ethics in every country we operate in,” said Lulin.

On Oct. 15, L’oreal will celebrate its annual ethics day, during which employees can choose to directly speak to chair and chief executive officer Jean Paul Agon through live webchat.

Last year, employees asked over 4,000 questions.

Working hand in hand with the human resources department, Lulin identifies three key elements of creating a culture of integrity with sound ethics within the organization.

First, the ability to speak up must never be stifled in any given organization.

LULIN

LULIN

Employees as well as management must be able to air their opinions without fear of retaliation.

For an organization to thrive, good internal justice must be in place.

“Take care of claims quickly and consistently instead of burying or avoiding them,” he said.

Sharing of sensitive information within the organization, meanwhile, poses a challenge to both employees and management.

Yet in the long run, this makes the organization a stronger unit as it generates trust among colleagues.

Lulin, 55—a corporate lawyer who was born, raised and educated in Paris—also said that recent issues such as acquisition of big data, dealing with environmental concerns and handling of social media pose a serious challenge to building an ethical culture.

But within every new issue is an opportunity to underscore the need for “an extended humanity” within organization.

“That’s when ethical values come in. Ethics help one make proper decisions when the law is silent,” Lulin said.

On social media, Lulin said “there is a need to balance respect, freedom of speech … to understand the extreme power of social media that can hurt individuals and companies. There must be constant confrontation between legitimate freedom and regulation.”

Lulin shared these thoughts as he went around Asia-Pacific, which is seen playing a strategic role in the company’s growth story.

The Philippines, with its young and growing population that today stands at about 100 million, is expected to be a major factor, thus the timely reminder to embrace ethics in the way everyday business is executed.

“We created a code of ethics not because we were required but rather because we were thinking long-term. We invest in the future and in the people,” Lulin said.

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