By and  on October 10, 2007

PARIS — L'Oréal unveiled the creation of a new corporate foundation Tuesday designed to finance programs that specifically encourage education, promote scientific research and help people in need.

The L'Oréal Corporate Foundation initially will be funded by a minimum of 40 million euros, or $56.3 million at current exchange, over a five-year period, and is intended to back the company's philanthropic activities, primarily in France.

"It's a new step, but not a rupture," said Lindsay Owen-Jones, L'Oréal's chairman, who is also chairman of the French beauty giant's foundation, speaking at a press conference held in company headquarters in the Paris suburb of Clichy.

"It is a continuation," agreed company chief executive officer Jean-Paul Agon. He was referring to the fact that L'Oréal has for many years supported philanthropic activities, including the Women in Science awards, run for the past decade in partnership with UNESCO. It honors outstanding women in scientific fields.

L'Oréal intends to grow such initiatives and also foster new projects.

According to Beatrice Dautresme, the new foundation's ceo and L'Oréal's executive vice president of communications and external relations, it is important that the philanthropic programs be in sync with L'Oréal, "that they are very meaningful for the internal [personnel] as well as the external public in the sense that they are in total symbiosis with the strategy of the corporation."

Dautresme added another criterion is that a chosen philanthropic initiative must have the possibility of international reach in the long term.

Such has been the case for a number of L'Oréal's programs, including Hairdressers Against AIDS, whose goal is preventative education. It was started in South Africa, with L'Oréal's SoftSheen-Carson brand, which had initiated preventative education for its employees in 2005. Since then, L'Oréal has expanded the program so its hairstylists are trained to educate clients in 15 countries, particularly where the virus is rife, such as China, India and Brazil.

Another program L'Oréal works on is Look Good, Feel Better, involving aestheticians running makeup and skin care clinics in hospitals for female patients. That experience, together with medical treatment, can help women "break away from their sickness," said Dautresme. The initiative was created in the U.S. by the Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association, but within a few years it expanded to 20 countries with the help of L'Oréal's support, she explained.And that's just a handful of the numerous projects with L'Oréal's patronage.

Dautresme said the foundation will allow L'Oréal to inscribe its charitable efforts in the long term. It is also meant to increase the visibility of the company's efforts and turn L'Oréal into a more socially responsible world citizen — a company goal set forth by Agon, who holds the foundation's purse strings — she explained.

Once an idea is approved by a selection committee (there is one for educative programs, another for scientific efforts and a third for "solidarity" initiatives), it is passed on to the foundation's board. This comprises nine members, three of which do not work for L'Oréal.

L'Oréal's foundation's 40 million euro backing makes it among France's largest corporate philanthropic foundations, said Owen-Jones. (The average size of those run by the 40 largest French companies is 1.8 million euros, or $2.5 million, in comparison, said Dautresme.)

For L'Oréal, the benefits of having a foundation are myriad, its executives say.

"People think when you sign a program with the name of a product, there's some commercial idea behind it," said Dautresme. "But when you're in a foundation, it's terribly nonprofit-oriented. It's just a vision of doing good."

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