Valentina Ranno is L’Oréal’s ethics officer in Italy. She is working to promote a climate of trust where employees feel free to speak out, in a country where “open talk” culture is still catching up in the business sector.
From government to civil society and consumers, Italians are paying more attention to ethics
When asked about Italy’s biggest ethics issue, Valentina names corruption, identifying it as a long-standing problem that reaches into every area of Italian society. “It is not a cliché, sad to say, but things have been changing in recent years, as our government appears to be tackling the issue”, she explains. Backing up her claim, she mentions a law passed two years ago that, at long last, makes corruption between two individuals a criminal offence. On the business front, Valentina cites Compliance Act 231, which requires companies to set up tests to prevent crimes relating to safety, lobbying or bribery. “The legislation actually dates back to 2001, but was not really put into effect until 2006 at L’Oréal. Its application marks a major turning point for our country.” Since Act 231 was passed, firms have had to introduce a binding code of ethics or face heavy penalties, which can even include a ban of business activities.
This newfound concern within government is broadly shared by civil society, which is increasingly engaged on the question. “Young people are especially attentive to ethics”, says Valentina, who describes being quizzed on L’Oréal’s CSR policy recently by university students working on their final dissertation. Consumers, meanwhile, take a keen interest in products’ environmental specifications, including materials recycling. “As a matter of fact, Italy’s competition authority just asked us for evidence to back up some of our ‘green claims’”, explains Valentina, “what we have done”. Yet much remains to be done in a country where people are not accustomed to talking about questions of ethics publicly, and even less in the business world.
Ethics over a cup of coffee – the L’Oréal way
As head of L’Oréal Italy’s Ethics Committee, Valentina strives to encourage communication and “open talk” in a country that is notoriously silent on ethics issues. Her secret weapon? A good cup of coffee. Twice a year, L’Oréal Italy’s employees get together at “Ethics Cafés” to share their concerns. “We held our last event in Settimo Torinese, at the Saipo Industriale plant, which is renowned for having reduced the emission of greenhouse gases – zero carbon emissions being one of its major achievements. All the workers were invited to participate”, says Valentina. Some iconic personalities have been enlisted to take part in these events, including Francesco Moser, a cyclist known around the world for his courage and determination in a sport plagued by doping scandals, or crime expert Guido Travaini, who is well placed to draw parallels between the code of silence in business and in the mafia. Another big challenge for Valentina is to promote meritocracy in a country that is still playing catch-up on these issues and to establish written procedures, especially for job descriptions and individual responsibilities.
The power of working together
Valentina is not all on her own. “We cooperate closely with Emmanuel Lulin’s team at L’Oréal HQ, particularly on delicate questions linked to problems of bribery, human rights violations and anything else who would not be in line with the strong commitment of the company.” She also reports to the Group annually, providing information about numbers of problem cases, processes implemented, solutions considered, measures taken and so on.
Because we are stronger together, L’Oréal Italy takes part in the major international events organised by the Group. These include three-day training courses that gather the country ethics officers to review progress and compare methods and outcomes. Meanwhile, Ethics Days give employees the opportunity to ask their questions to senior management. “We do get some awkward questions, such as when we shut the Turin head office. But we are not hiding behind our screens – we strive to give everyone an answer, with sincerity and transparency”, says Valentina.
The last word
Valentina concludes, saying: “My mission is to create a climate of trust in which everyone feels free to express their concerns on ethics issues. When we held the first Ethics Days, a handful of people turned up. Now, dozens come through my door. That tells me we are on the right track”.