France lower house passes bill banning hair discrimination News
Ank Kumar, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
France lower house passes bill banning hair discrimination

The French National Assembly passed a bill on Thursday banning discrimination over the texture, length, color or style of a person’s hair on first reading. The bill will now go to the Senate for further approval.

The proposed bill aims to amend the wording of existing anti-discrimination measures adopted in the labor code, penal code and general civil service code. Currently, the laws prohibit discrimination based on a number of grounds, including: political or trade union association, philosophical or religious opinions, origin, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, surname, family or pregnancy status, state of health, physical appearance, disability, membership or non-membership to an ethnic group or race. The proposed language in the bill will add hair cut, color, length, and texture to the list of perceived discrimination.

While only 50 of the 577 lawmakers of the National Assembly were present, the bill was passed with an absolute majority of 44 votes. Two lawmakers voted against the adoption and four absented. 

The bill is partly motivated by a recent case involving a Black, male flight attendant with braids who was dismissed by Air France for refusing to comply with the company’s internal manual requiring that “hairstyles must maintain a natural and homogeneous appearance” and “limited in volume.” The Court of Cassation ruled on November 23, 2022, that Air France committed discrimination by prohibiting the steward from wearing braids, but the discrimination was based on gender instead of race since braids were allowed for women in the company’s manual—provided they were kept in a bun—but disallowed for men.

Recognizing the need to address discrimination over hair per se, French lawmakers seek to echo similar hair discrimination acts in the US and the UK. In the US, the “Crown Act”—also known as the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair—was first passed in California in July 2019, and subsequently adopted in 23 other states. At federal level, the House of Representatives passed the the bill in March 2022. However, it was never officially voted on in the Senate because it was unable obtain enough support to override a filibuster from Senate Republicans. In the UK, Britain’s equality watchdog the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) issued a non-statutory guidance in October 2022, instructing British schools to avoid discrimination based on hair in tailoring their policies.

Prior research has demonstrated discrimination based on hair exists in the workplace, with a particular effect on women and certain ethic groups. Joint research conducted by Dove and LinkedIn in 2023 showed that around two-thirds of Black women in the US would change their hairstyle for a job interview. A prior 2009 study in the UK showed that one-third blonde women would dye their hair brown to “look more intelligent” in a professional setting.

In France, while the bill protecting natural hair was able to gain enough support in the National Assembly, it may face opposition when entering the Senate, which is conservative-dominated.