‘Unprofessional, dirty and wild’: French parliament takes up hair discrimination bill

Those sporting Afro-styled hair, blonde or ginger hair, dreads, braids or even balding heads could gain new protections in France, where a lawmaker from the French Caribbean has introduced a bill that would make discrimination based on hair texture, length, colour or style illegal. While some argue the law is unnecessary, others say it will fill a gap in existing legislation tackling discrimination. 

After years of hearing all sorts of derogatory comments from schoolmates about her Afro-styled kinky hair, Kenza Bel Kenadil was met with the same contempt when she entered the job market. At the tender age of 17, she was told at work that her hair was “unprofessional, dirty and wild”.

When she eventually took a job as a hostess at a hotel in southern France, she was shouted at by management. “Either you go home and change hairstyles”, her boss roared, “or don’t come in to work”.

Discrimination based on hair texture, length, colour or style is at the heart of a bill tabled by Olivier Serva, an MP from the LIOT group (Liberties, Independents, Overseas and Territories) from the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. His aim is to ensure that hair discrimination becomes punishable by law. First introduced in September 2023, the bill will be debated in the National Assembly this Thursday, March 28.

A ‘historic’ bill

While Serva leads the political battle to end hair discrimination, Bel Kenadil has been waging her own combat online for years. Now 26, she posts videos on social media – some of which have garnered millions of views – to shed light on the issue.

When her boss at the hotel threatened her years ago, she ended up going home “in tears” and tied her hair up in a bun. “I didn’t understand why my hair would have an impact on my professionalism or employability,” she says.

To prevent that such situations continue into the future, Serva is proposing to add the specific mention of hair to the list of discriminations based on physical appearance.

“It is historic,” Serva said on March 18, after the bill was approved for debate by the French Law Commission, whose role it is to prepare all legislative debates in the National Assembly. “[France] is the first country in the world to recognise hair discrimination at a national level.”

Read moreRacist attacks on pop star Aya Nakamura test France’s ability to shine at Paris Olympics

This is almost true. The US is the only other country to have introduced legislation on hair discrimination. A bill known as the Crown Act (“Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair”) was passed by the House of Representatives in March 2022. It states that any race-based hair discrimination at work, in public accommodations and against those participating in federally assisted programmes such as housing programmes, is strictly prohibited by law.

The bill, which especially strengthened school and workplace protections for Black women who are disproportionately affected by hair discrimination, was passed in 24 states including New York, California, Arizona and Texas. But to date, federal legislation has been unsuccessful, as Senate Republicans blocked the act from passing in December 2022. 

In the UK, the Equality and Human Rights Commission issued a directive in October 2022 on preventing hair discrimination in schools. Aimed at helping “school leaders foster an inclusive environment,” the guidance refers to sections of the Equality Act to ensure institutions are not unlawfully discriminatory in their policies. Though applied to all forms of hair discrimination, there is a focus on race because “research and court cases indicate discrimination … disproportionally affects pupils with Afro-textured hair or hairstyles”.

A legal framework exists – but is it enough?

Back in France, the introductory text for Serva’s hair discrimination bill states that “people who suffer discrimination based on their hair texture, colour or style lack a specific legal framework”.

But not all MPs share his sentiment on the issue, arguing there is already ample legislative recourse to combat discrimination based on physical appearance in France.

“This is a typical example of a bad idea. There is no legal gap,” labour law specialist Eric Rocheblave told French news agency AFP. Under French labour law, “discrimination based on physical appearance is already prohibited” even if there is no “explicit [clause] on hair discrimination”, he said.

If there was a case of discrimination “based on hair, lack of hair, colour, length or appearance, I could link it to existing legislation,” Rocheblave insisted.

Article 225-1 of the national criminal code lists 25 instances that would constitute discrimination prohibited by law, such as sexual orientation or political beliefs. But for advocates of a French law on hair discrimination, the list does not go far enough.

“If it did, we wouldn’t be turned away from jobs because of our hair. We wouldn’t be subjected to [derogatory] comments from colleagues. And the Air France steward wouldn’t have had to take his case to France’s highest appeals court,” Bel Kenadil counters, referring to Aboubakar Traoré, who sued Air France in 2012 for discrimination after he was barred from flights for wearing braids tied back in a bun.

The company said his hairstyle did not conform to the rules in the flight manual for staff, which allowed women but not men to have braided hair in the cabin.

Ten years later, France’s highest appeals court ruled in favour of Traoré. But the decision issued by the court stated that the company policy amounted to gender discrimination, not hair discrimination.

Hair style, colour, length or texture

Even though Article 225-1 states that “distinctions made based on a person’s origins, sex, family status, pregnancy, physical appearance … constitute discrimination”, Serva is set on providing a “necessary legal clarification” by including “haircut, colour, length, or texture”. This precision would then have to be included in clauses of the French Labour Law and Civil Service Code that deal with discrimination.

Because France does not collect data based on race, ethnicity or religion, there are no national studies on the extent of hair discrimination against Black people in France.

But according to a 2023 US study carried out by Dove and LinkedIn, Black women’s hair is “2.5 times more likely to be perceived as unprofessional”. And a UK study from 2009 cited in the introductory text to Serva’s bill found that one blonde woman in three dyed their hair brown to increase their chances of being recruited and to be perceived as “more intelligent” in professional settings.

Serva also said hair discrimination affected balding men in an interview with French radio station France info in April last year, claiming researchers had proven that balding men were “30 percent less likely to be able to climb the ladder in their company”.

A public health issue

MPs from the conservative Les Républicains and far-right National Rally parties have criticised the bill, calling it an “importation of ‘victim logic’ into French law”.

Bel Kenadil says she understands how “one can question the existence of something when one hasn’t been a victim of it”. On the other hand, she adds, “for me, when even one single person is discriminated against, no matter how, that person must be protected”.

In a video posted on her Instagram account, the influencer sports a variety of hairstyles and assures everyone she is “professional”, while the caption reads: “My appearance doesn’t have anything to do with my skills.”

Countless testimonials of people who have been discriminated against because of their hair flood the comments section. “When I was a young student nurse, I had braids put in, and then I was asked if they were clean,” one follower writes. “I was told to straighten my hair for job interviews,” another laments. Other stories beyond the comments section of her Instagram profile have shocked Bel Kenadil. “A person with blonde hair was turned down for a job because her hair colour wasn’t ‘serious enough’,” she says. “A receptionist recorded an exchange in which her employer berated her, saying, ‘In your interview, you were told loose hair or hair tied up, but nicely styled. What is this? It looks like a lion’s mane.’”

The explanatory text accompanying Serva’s hair discrimination bill mentions the importance of self-esteem and personal confidence, but also touches on a significant health factor when it comes to Afro-textured frizzy or kinky hair.

“A person who is unable to wear their hair naturally in a professional or educational setting will either be forced to hide their hair or change it using chemical products,” the text reads. “This is far from harmless. Tight hairstyles can eventually lead to traction alopecia (hair loss from hairstyles that pull on roots), and products used to chemically straighten hair can cause scalp burns.”

2022 study by the US National Institute of Health (NIH) found that women who used chemical hair straightening products were at higher risk of developing uterine cancer than women who did not.

“This is proof that this topic needs to be taken seriously,” Bel Kenadil insists. “I don’t mind hearing that there are more serious issues. But if that is our starting point, we will never make progress on anything.”

This article is a translation of the original version in French. 

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France’s fast-fashion ‘kill bill’: Green move or penalty for the poor?

In a bid to combat the “fast-fashion” and “ultra-fast-fashion” brands that have taken France by storm, a young lawmaker from the conservative Les Républicains party has proposed slapping an extra €5 on every fast-fashion purchase in the name of the environment and the French textile industry. But criticism of the bill has been fierce, especially on social media, where some have slammed the draft bill as unfair, saying it will only serve to punish the poor.  

“So gorgeous, so classy!,” 31-year-old conservative lawmaker Antoine Vermorel-Marques exclaims as he films himself pulling out a pair of shoes from a box purportedly ordered from the hugely popular Chinese fast-fashion online giant Shein. “Treated with phthalate, a substance which is an endocrine disruptor that can make us sterile,” he adds as an ironic kicker.

In the parody-like video posted on TikTok in mid-February, Vermorel-Marques unpacks and shows off his great “hauls” in much the same way many of the platform’s fashion and beauty influencers do to promote new products they have purchased or been “gifted” by the brand.

But Vermorel-Marques’s video is hardly meant to promote Shein’s products. It is intended to accompany his draft of a fast-fashion “kill bill” he recently proposed to the National Assembly.

@antoinevermorel42 🛑 Les vêtements à 2€ qui arrivent en avion, contiennent des substances nocives pour la santé et finissent sur les plages en Afrique, c’est non ! Je dépose à l’Assemblée nationale une proposition de loi pour instaurer un bonus-malus afin de pénaliser les marques et pour encourager les démarches plus vertueuses ♻️ #shein#sheinhaul#ecologie#fastfashion#stopshein#pourtoi#fyp @lookbookaly @menezangel_ @loufitlove @lila_drila @cilia.ghass @tifanywallemacq @veronika_cln @lia__toutcourt @iamm_mae.e@IAMM_MAE.E ♬ son original – antoinevermorel

The bill is expected to be debated in the lower house of parliament in the next few months and was drafted to support France’s ailing textile industry which has been hard hit by the country’s growing fast fashion consumption. The bill calls for a €5 penalty for any fast-fashion purchase.

Fast fashion, or the high-speed, low-cost production of the latest trends, has grown so strong in France in recent years that it is threatening the future of many traditional and domestic fashion manufacturers. The average price tag for a piece of Shein clothing is estimated at just €7. Oxfam France describes fast fashion as “disposable”, warning on its website that it has “disastrous social and environmental consequences”.

Although a host of brands fall under the fast-fashion category, Vermorel-Marques is particularly targeting the “ultra-fast-fashion” online retailer Shein. The China-founded but Singapore-based company is estimated to add between 6,000 and 11,000 new offerings to its catalogue every single day. The brand has frequently come under fire for the environmental and social consequences of its throw-away business model, and according to Vermorel-Marques, for “destroying France’s textile industry”.

But it did not take long for the draft bill to whip up a storm, with some likening the €5 penalty to yet another tax primarily penalising the poor as well as restricting their access to affordable and trendy clothes.

‘Another step towards injustice’

Shein, and peers like Temu and Boohoo, have found an appreciative audience among consumers who rarely have to spend more than €10 to fill their wardrobes with the latest trending skirts, tops, trousers or accessories.

“In France, there’s a gap between our convictions, the awareness that we need to make an effort, and acceptance of the measures to combat these issues,” said Cécile Désaunay, director of studies at Futuribles, a consultancy firm that analyses transformative societal, lifestyle and consumption trends.

Désaunay said that this €5 penalty is particularly sensitive “because it touches on what is considered the freedom to consume”.

However, she emphasised that the law is not just meant to punish but also to reward, and would work as a bonus-penalty system that would make sustainable fashion more accessible to everyone.

In an interview with the quarterly narrative journalism publication Usbek&Rica, Vermorel-Marques explained how the system is meant to work: While a fast-fashion shopper would be slapped with a €5 penalty for every purchase, a person buying an environmentally friendly and domestically-produced piece of clothing would instead receive a €5 bonus.

“What is key here is that it’s not another tax,” he said. “We’re not here to take money from you. We’re just saying: ‘If you pollute, you pay. And if you don’t pollute, you win’. It’s a win-win for both the consumer and the planet.”

A supporter of the bill took to the social media platform X to expand on the lawmaker’s argument:

“This isn’t a ‘tax’. Shein, Ali[Express], etc. are already taxed, but what we’re talking about here is a penalty punishing those who participate in fast fashion, and by extension, in the exploitation of people and the increase in waste.”

A worker makes clothes at a garment factory that supplies fast fashion e-commerce company Shein in Guangzhou, China, on July 18, 2022. © Jade Gao, AFP

Désaunay noted it was not the first time the bonus-penalty system has been used to draw up new legislation to encourage more responsible and sustainable consumption behaviour, pointing to, among other things, the bonus offered to French car buyers who opt for less-polluting vehicles, and Sweden’s initiative to reduce the value-added tax on used item repairs.

Although Désaunay said she completely understands peoples’ need to dress themselves, many, and especially younger shoppers, now over-consume thanks to low-cost brands like Shein.

‘I’m poor, but I have values’

“Before, the norm was to have fewer clothes, but that lasted longer. We paid more for them, but we made them last,” Désaunay explained. “Today, we’ve moved away from that mentality. We have clothes that are not as strong, that don’t last as long, and we’re getting used to always having more of them because they cost less.”

On social media, the draft bill has divided users. “Fast fashion for some, the only way to dress for others,” one user wrote, while another stated: “I’m poor, but I have values, I don’t order from these sites! You can be poor and have values!”

Désaunay said that many get trapped in the mindset “that in order to dress cheaply, you have to buy clothes ‘Made in China’, as if there are no other alternatives”. One sustainable alternative, she noted, is simply to turn to second-hand shopping.

“The challenge for the textile industry is that charities and other recycling centres are bursting at the seams with [used] clothes,” she said. “Given the amount of clothes already on this planet, we could still dress humanity for another 100 years even if we stopped making them.”

But despite the many positives related to second-hand shopping, Désaunay said it is still often frowned upon “and even rejected by the poorest in society”, due to the stigma attached to wearing “hand-me-downs”.

According to a report by shopping application Joko, Shein had a 13 percent French market share in value terms at the end of 2023, making it France’s second-favourite online fashion brand. The No. 1 spot, however, was claimed by Vinted, a rapidly growing second-hand clothing platform.

“The fast-fashion mentality is coming to an end,” Désaunay said.

Although the proposed bill has not even been debated yet, she said it will serve as a “pretext to rethink the value of the items we buy”: “If it’s not expensive, it’s because there’s a trade-off. In this case, an environmental trade-off.”  

The fast fashion industry has regularly been shamed for how its business model damages the environment (the cheap and toxic chemical pollutants used in the dyes, as well as the consumption of water and fossil fuels), negatively impacts climate change (CO2 emissions) and how it exploits human rights (forced labour). In a recent report, the French chapter of the environmental grassroots network Friends of the Earth (FoE) estimated that Shein alone produces some 1 million garments per day, which corresponds to between 15,000 and 20,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

But, the group pointed out, brick-and-mortar fast-fashion retailers such as Zara, H&M, Primark and Uniqlo are hardly better. “[What they] don’t do in terms of quantity of new offerings, they make up for in quantity produced, as well disrespect of human rights,” FoE said, noting that these brands have all been accused of either profiting from, or having profited from, forced labour by China’s Uighur population.

In 2022, Shein recorded roughly $23 billion in sales, according to the Wall Street Journal. For 2023, its sales are estimated at nearly $32 billion.

This article was adapted from the original in French.

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‘Contradictions of Macronism’: French government fights to save face after immigration bill debacle

President Emmanuel Macron’s government vowed on Tuesday to press ahead with a controversial immigration bill, a day after its flagship reform was rejected by lawmakers in a humiliating setback. The political crisis has heaped further pressure on a government that has struggled to pass reforms without a parliamentary majority.

In a surprise move, the French National Assembly voted to back a motion rejecting a controversial immigration bill on Monday without even debating it. The motion, proposed by the Greens, gained support not only from left-wing representatives but also from members of the right-wing Les Républicains and the far-right National Rally

The government’s stunning defeat in parliament prompted opposition politicians to call for its dissolution. Jordan Bardella, the president of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, told BFMTV on Tuesday he was “ready to serve as prime minister”.

The Élysée Palace, meanwhile, has moved fast to try and stop the political fallout. After an emergency ministerial meeting on Tuesday, government spokesperson Olivier Véran announced the formation of a special joint commission aimed at breaking the parliamentary gridlock “as fast as possible”’. The commission will be composed of seven representatives from both houses of parliament and will aim to return the bill to both chambers for a vote, Véran said. 

French government spokesperson Olivier Véran holds a press conference after a cabinet meeting at the presidential Élysée Palace in Paris, on December 12, 2023. © Ludovic Marin, AFP

After months of seeking to secure a majority in the National Assembly for his flagship policy, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin had a lot riding on the legislation’s success. In response to the setback, Darmanin offered his resignation, which Macron rejected.  

Darmanin had actively courted the right for months in an attempt to secure a majority, accepting a substantial rewrite of the bill in the conservative-led Senate. However, the bill presented on Monday in the Assembly bore little resemblance to the one voted on in the Senate, much to the dismay of Les Républicains.

Speaking on TF1 on Monday after the vote, Darmanin acknowledged the defeat. “It is a failure, of course, because I want to provide resources for the police (…) and magistrates to combat undocumented immigration,” he said.

The limits of ‘en même temps’

Macron’s government has touted its proposed immigration law as a way to respond to voter concerns and prevent the far right from monopolising the immigration debate.  

“The president believes it is necessary to respond to what he sees as a public demand, given the multitude of events that have highlighted immigration issues in the news. This explains the government’s desire to show citizens that it takes the initiative and acts,” said Bruno Cautrès, a researcher at the Centre for Political Research at Sciences Po Paris (CEVIPOF).

However, Monday’s debacle in the National Assembly has exposed the limitations of the politics of “en même temps” (“at the same time”) – an approach pursued by Macron since 2017, combining policy solutions from both the right and the left wings of French politics.  

What was possible with an absolute majority during Macron’s first term is no longer feasible with a minority government.

According to a poll conducted by Odoxa, 72% of French citizens consider better control of immigration to be the bill’s most important objective. But the French are far from unified on how they want to resolve the system’s issues – mirroring deep divisions between left and right.

While the proposed law is widely perceived as right-leaning, it failed to satisfy both the right and far right, who reject providing work permits to undocumented workers. Simultaneously, it proved too repressive for the left, which opposes restrictions on family reunifications and the introduction of an annual debate on migration quotas.

Politicians are urging Macron’s government to choose a side instead of attempting to please everyone. Olivier Marleix, the head of Les Républicains in the lower house, told French television channel LCI that his party was “ready to vote” if the text is revised to the version voted through by the Senate.  

“We want the government to choose sides: either it’s a right-wing text or a left-wing text, but it can’t be both at the same time.”

Even Macron’s political movement, Renaissance, exhibited internal divisions over the bill. The left wing of Renaissance, led by Sacha Houlié, the chairman of the lower house commission that amended the bill, expressed dissatisfaction with concessions made by Darmanin to the right, particularly regarding the stripping of healthcare rights for undocumented migrants.

Read moreFrench doctors vow to ‘disobey’ bill stripping undocumented migrants of healthcare rights


“We have red lines. It would be irresponsible to go beyond our political DNA … The adoption of the text cannot come at the cost of a division within the majority,” said Houlié in an interview with French Financial daily Les Échos on Sunday.

“It is very difficult to achieve consensus on immigration, which generates a diversity of perspectives and a clear division between right and left,” said Cautres. “There have been many hesitations by the government over the months. The balance is too difficult to find because this is typically the kind of issue where the contradictions of ‘Macronism’ can surface.”  

Fallout for Darmanin – and his colleagues

A day after having his resignation declined, Darmanin seems to have bounced back, for now. On a visit to a police station in the southeastern suburbs of Paris, Darmanin said Tuesday that “whatever path we take”, he wanted “firm measures” to be put in place by the end of the year.

But his contortions throughout the process have left a lasting impression. After expressing satisfaction with the Senate’s version which bore little resemblance to the initial bill, Darmanin had enthusiastically welcomed the version the National Assembly commission extensively revised – prompting critics to describe him as fickle.  

On Tuesday, Les Républicains party chief Eric Ciotti said he would like to work with Prime Minister Élizabeth Borne on the immigration law moving forward, suggesting his party had lost faith in the interior minister.   

“How can we talk to someone (Darmanin) who constantly insults us? It is up to the prime minister to lead this discussion,” he told Europe 1.  

If the new special joint commission fails to reach a breakthrough, it will pose a significant challenge for Borne and her government. If she still intends to adopt the bill, she may find herself compelled to use Article 49.3 – a controversial provision in the French constitution that allows the executive to bypass the National Assembly to pass a law. 

Triggering Article 49.3 for the 21st time in only 18 months would raise the political stakes even higher, particularly after the administration’s controversial use of it in the spring to pass pension reform occasioned protests and disruptive strikes across France that garnered the world’s attention.

This article was adapted from the original in French.

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What we know about the French senator accused of drugging an MP in attempted sex assault

French Senator Joël Guerriau is facing preliminary charges of drugging a fellow lawmaker with the intent to commit “rape or sexual assault”, prosecutors confirmed Friday, in a case that has shocked France. Guerriau was suspended from both his Horizons party and his Senate group on Saturday. 

The 66-year-old senator from western France was arrested at his Paris home on Thursday over the alleged attempted assault of Sandrine Josso, 48, a member of the lower-house National Assembly. He is accused of drugging the MP by spiking her drink after he invited her to his home. 

Guerriau was placed under judicial supervision on Friday pending the outcome of the investigation, restricting his freedom of movement. Prosecutors said the two politicians were long-standing acquaintances but were not in a relationship. 

Guerriau’s centre-right party Horizons, which is allied to President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party, said on Saturday it had suspended the senator “with immediate effect” and initiated disciplinary proceedings “that could lead to his permanent exclusion”.  

His Senate group Les Indépendants, which includes senators from Horizons and other centre-right parties, announced it was taking the same steps in a statement shortly after.

  • What has Guerriau been charged with?

Guerriau is facing preliminary charges of “administering to a person, without their knowledge, a substance likely to impair their discernment or control over their actions in order to commit rape or sexual assault”, according to the Paris public prosecutor’s office.  

His lawyer Rémi-Pierre Drai said he denies the charge. Guerriau was also charged with possessing drugs, Drai added.

Joël Guerriau, 66, has been a French senator since 2011. © Paul Brounais, Wikimedia Creative Commons

The senator was arrested after Josso filed a legal complaint. He was detained under rules of “flagrancy”, which grant investigators special powers – such as overriding parliamentary immunity – when the suspect is caught in the act or shortly thereafter. Searches were carried out at Guerriau’s office and also at his home, where investigators found ecstasy, a potent drug that causes both stimulant and hallucinogenic effects. 

Guerriau and the alleged victim were jointly questioned, in their lawyers’ presence, for nearly two hours on Friday, a common practice in France known as a “confrontation”. After his release from police custody, the senator was placed under judicial supervision and banned from contacting Josso or any witnesses. 

Under French law, preliminary charges mean that the investigating magistrates have strong reason to suspect wrongdoing but need more time to determine whether to send a case to trial. Charges levelled at Guerriau carry a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment and a €75,000 fine.

  • What do we know about the incident? 

Josso told investigators she felt ill after having a drink on Tuesday night at the senator’s Paris apartment, prosecutors said. According to French broadcaster BFMTV, which cited sources close to the investigation, the MP told police that the two had initially agreed to meet at a restaurant but that Guerriau suggested they dine at his home instead.

Her lawyer, Julia Minkowski, told AFP that her client felt unwell after drinking a glass of champagne and had seen the senator “grabbing a small plastic bag containing something white in a drawer in his kitchen”. Josso then realised that he was trying to drug her without her knowledge, the counsel added. 

“She had to deploy monumental physical and intellectual forces to overcome her terror and extricate herself at the last minute from this ambush,” Minkowski said, adding that her client was “in a state of shock”. 

Josso was admitted to hospital for tests, which revealed the presence of ecstasy in her system. The lawmaker subsequently lodged a complaint. 

Guerriau’s lawyer denied his client intended to assault the lawmaker, claiming it was a “handling error” that caused her to fall ill. The senator “will fight to prove he never intended to administer a substance to his colleague and longstanding friend to abuse her”, Drai said in a statement to the press. 

A former banker, Guerriau has been a member of the Senate, the French parliament’s upper house, since 2011, representing the western Loire-Atlantique region. He currently serves as deputy head of its foreign affairs and defence committee.  

Guerriau joined Horizons, the party created by former prime minister Edouard Philippe, in 2022, having previously been involved with a variety of centre-right parties. He was also deputy head of Les Indépendants, the group he sits with in the French Senate.

Guerriau’s lawyer said his client was “not a predator”, describing him as “an honest man, respected and respectable, who will restore his and his family’s honour”.  

The senator was previously unknown to the general public, though he made waves on social media in December 2016 when a post on the Islamic State (IS) group appeared on his Twitter account with a close-up picture of a penis. Guerriau claimed his account had been hacked and vowed to press charges, but later dropped the matter.  

Josso is a member of the lower-house National Assembly, also from Loire-Atlantique. She was first elected in 2017 under the banner of Macron’s fledgling party La République en Marche (LREM) and is now a member of its centrist ally MoDem. 

Her lawyer said Guerriau “had been a friend for around 10 years in whom she had complete confidence”, stressing her client’s “feeling of betrayal and total incomprehension”.   

  • What has been the response among the political class? 

Several politicians have expressed their shock on social media and called for a swift investigation.  

The allegations, “if proven, are horrific”, Environment Minister Christophe Béchu, a member of Horizons, told France Inter radio on Friday, adding that Guerriau “can obviously no longer remain in the party (…) if there is any element of doubt”.  

Horizons’ political bureau voted unanimously on Saturday to suspend Guerriau “with immediate effect”. Bureau members said they were “deeply shocked by the facts at the root of the accusations” and had initiated a “disciplinary procedure that could lead to (the senator’s) permanent exclusion”. 

The party said it would “never tolerate the slightest complacency toward sexual and sexist violence” and promised to call the plaintiff to express its support and solidarity. 

Guerriau’s Senate group released a statement shortly after, saying it had also suspended the senator and initiated disciplinary proceedings. 

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Critics claim Paris using 2024 Games to introduce Big Brother video surveillance

France’s National Assembly is due to adopt a law on Tuesday ahead of the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. Article 7 is the most controversial aspect of this law, as it will allow AI video surveillance to be used to detect abnormal behaviour. Human rights organisations and the French left have condemned the measure.  

The all-encompassing law that France’s National Assembly is due to adopt on March 28, ahead of the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, will allow shops to open on Sundays, establish a health centre in the department of Seine-Saint-Denis (located northeast of Paris) and permit the French state to investigate future accredited persons. However, Article 7 of this law is particularly controversial, as it states that AI video surveillance may be used, on a trial basis, to ensure the safety of the Olympic Games. Human rights groups say the use of this technology will set a dangerous precedent.  

During the preliminary phase, Article 7 was adopted by the presidential majority, France’s right-wing party Les Républicains and the far-right National Rally. The New Ecological and Social People’s Union (NUPES), a coalition of left-wing parties, opposed it. It will allow algorithm-driven video surveillance technology to be used to ensure the safety of large-scale “sporting, recreational or cultural events” on a trial basis.  

‘An all-out assault on rights to privacy’

“Algorithmic video surveillance is a new form of technology that uses computer software to analyse images captured by surveillance cameras in real time,” explains Arnaud Touati, a lawyer specialised in digital law. “The algorithms used in the software are notably based on machine learning technology, which allows AI video surveillance, over time, to continue to improve and adapt to new situations.” 

Proponents of this technology claim to be able to anticipate crowd movements and spot abandoned luggage or potentially dangerous incidents. Compared to traditional video surveillance, everything is automated with algorithms in charge of analysis – which, according to those in favour of this technology, limits human errors. 

“While France promotes itself as a champion of human rights globally, its decision to legalize AI-powered mass surveillance during the Olympics will lead to an all-out assault on the rights to privacy, protest, and freedom of assembly and expression,” Amnesty International said in a statement after the article was passed. 

A herald of future video surveillance across Europe? 

Katia Roux, the NGO’s technology and human rights specialist, explains that this technology can elicit many fears. “Under international law, legislation must respect the strict principles of necessity and proportionality. In this case, however, the legislator has not demonstrated this,” she says. “We are talking about assessment technology, which has to evaluate behaviours and categorise them as at risk so that measures can be taken afterwards.”  



“This technology is not legal today. In France, experiments have been done but not within the legal framework that this law proposes to create,” she said. “Nor is it legal at the European level. It is even brought up during discussions in the European Parliament about technology and the regulation of artificial intelligence systems. The legislation could therefore also violate the European regulation currently being drafted.” 

“By adopting this law, France would become the champion of video surveillance in the EU and set an extremely dangerous precedent. It would send an extremely worrying signal to countries that might be tempted to use this technology against their own population,” she continued. 


One fear is that the seemingly cold and infallible algorithm may in fact contain discriminatory biases. “These algorithms are going to be trained using a set of data decided and designed by human beings. They will therefore be able to incorporate the discriminatory biases of the people who conceived and designed them,” says Roux. 

“AI video surveillance has already been used for racist purposes, notably by China, in the exclusive surveillance of the Uighurs, a Muslim minority present in the country,” says Touati. “Because ethnic minorities are under-represented in the data provided to the algorithms for learning-purposes, there are significant discriminatory and racist biases. According to an MIT study, while the facial recognition error is 1% for White men, it is 34% for Black women.” 

Touati, however, wants to see the glass as half full. “Using AI video surveillance during events of this magnitude could also highlight the algorithm’s discriminatory, misogynistic and racist biases by identifying, at too high a frequency to be accurate, people from minority ethnic groups as potential suspects,” he explains. 

When asked by members of the left-wing opposition coalition NUPES what kind of people AI video surveillance would be targeting, the French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said, “Not [ones wearing] hoodies.”  The French government believes that the limits set by the law – the absence of facial recognition, data protection – will be enough to prevent discriminatory practices.  

“We have put safeguards in place so that tenders are only reserved for companies that respect a certain number of rules, including hosting data on national territory, respecting the CNIL [National Commission on Informatics and Liberty; an independent French administrative regulatory body responsible for ensuring that data privacy law is applied to the collection, storage and use of personal data] and the GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation ; a data protection law introduced by the EU],” says MP Philippe Latombe, a member of the pro-Europe and centre-right political party Democratic Movement. He co-signed an amendment with the National Rally so that the call for tenders would give priority to European companies. “Clearly, we don’t want it to be a Chinese company that does data processing in China and uses the data to do something else.” 

“We are not reassured by the government’s guarantees. In reality, no real amendment is possible, and this technology is, in itself, problematic and dangerous for human rights,” says Roux. “It will remain so until a serious evaluation has been conducted, the necessity and proportionality of its use has been demonstrated, and a real debate has been held with civil society’s different actors on this issue.” 

Sports events and tech experiments

Although the Olympic Games are clearly the target event, this technological experiment can begin as soon as the law is implemented and will end on December 31, 2024, four months after the Paralympic Games finish. It could therefore be applied to a wide range of events, starting with the Rugby World Cup from September 8 to October 28.  

Opponents of AI video surveillance fear that its initially exceptional use will eventually become commonplace. After all, sports events are often used as a testing ground for policing, security and new technology. The 2012 London Olympics, for example, led to the widespread use of video surveillance in the British capital. 

“We are afraid that this exceptional period will become the norm,” explains Roux, who adds that voice recognition technology, which was deployed on an experimental basis during the 2018 World Cup in Russia, has since been used to repress the opposition.  

Finally, Amnesty International is concerned that video surveillance will eventually lead to biometric or voice surveillance. “Facial recognition is just a feature waiting to be activated,” says Roux. 

The law on the 2024 Olympic Games has not yet completed its legislative journey. Following Tuesday’s formal vote in the National Assembly, the text will undergo several changes and make multiple trips between the Assembly and Senate, which had previously amended it, until the two chambers agree to adopt it.  

Tech 24’s Peter O’Brien contributed to this article. 

This article has been translated from the original in French

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After Macron’s use of ‘nuclear option’ on unpopular pension reform, what’s next?

Several consequences could follow the French government’s use of Article 49.3 of the constitution to pass President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform without a vote in the National Assembly on Thursday. They include no-confidence motion against the government, the dissolution of the Assembly, and ongoing street protests. FRANCE 24 breaks down the options for the opposition and the president.

After Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne on Thursday invoked the power inscribed in Article 49.3 of the constitution allowing the government to pass bills without a vote in the lower-house Assembly, opponents of pension reform still have cards to play. They hope to force the government to back down before the enactment of the controversial law, which includes a hike in the retirement age from 62 to 64.

In the words of a Paris-region deputy and member of the left-wing NUPES (New Ecological and Social People’s Union) coalition, opposition lawmakers hope to use “all the means at their disposal” to sink pension reform. These include supporting organised protests, tabling a no-confidence vote in the government, launching a referendum to potentially kill the reform, and appealing to France’s Constitutional Council.

A vote of no confidence in the government

In the wake of Borne’s citation of 49.3 as opposition deputies sang La Marseillaise, France’s national anthem, and held placards saying “no!” to a retirement age of 64, deputies from two parliamentary groups tabled votes of no confidence in the cabinet she leads. The first came from the LIOT group (for Libertés, Indépendants, Outre-mer et Territoires) composed of centrists and moderates, and the second came from Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally (Rassemblement National or RN).

Cosigned by the leftist NUPES group, the LIOT group’s multiparty motion is giving the government more cause for concern. It could receive support from other members of the left, the far right and even those members of the center-right Les Républicains (LR), who want to bring down the government and its pension reform. The small LIOT group thus finds itself at a pivot point amid opposition to Macron from both right and the left.

Votes of no confidence must be tabled within 24 hours of the government’s triggering of Article 49.3, and debate may then begin after 48 hours, at a time set by an Assembly body that consists of deputies in various leadership positions. Debates on the two tabled no-confidence votes will begin in the Assembly on Monday, March 20 at 4pm, Paris time. A successful vote of no confidence must gain support from an absolute majority of deputies – 287, at present – which prevents a simple majority aided by abstentions from toppling a government.

With this requirement, it is unlikely that a vote will pass. Even with the support of all 149 deputies in the NUPES, 88 in the RN and 20 in LIOT, the motion would fall short by 32 votes. To overcome this deficit, more than half the Les Républicains deputies would also need to support it, despite party president Éric Ciotti’s opposition to such a course of action. That means a successful vote would need the support of unlikely defectors from Macron’s own Renaissance party or his parliamentary allies in Modem and Horizons. 

If either of the no-confidence votes were to succeed, the pension reform law the government passed would be rejected. Macron could then opt to appoint a new prime minister, or retain his confidence in Borne – and, in that case, dissolve the National Assembly, a move that French president Charles de Gaulle made in 1962 during the only such vote that passed since the founding of France’s Fifth Republic.

>> The Debate: French government overrides parliament over pensions, at what cost?

Dissolving the National Assembly

Macron has mentioned dissolving the Assembly as a recurring threat since last June’s legislative elections left his party with only a relative majority. It remained a threat on the eve of the forced passage of pension reform, in the hope of getting Les Républicains lawmakers who were reluctant to vote for the bill to fall in line.

The idea of following in the footsteps of de Gaulle by dissolving parliament after a no-confidence vote would no doubt please Macron. Even some of his supporters see new legislative elections as a solution to the post-49.3 situation. An anonymous Renaissance deputy said that the build-up to the use of 49.3 amounts to “a crash. We need a dissolution” – which, with an ensuing elections victory, would boost Macron’s political capital.

But the manoeuvre is risky. In 1997, then-president Jacques Chirac tried it and lost his majority in the Assembly. The same thing could happen to Macron in 2023 should he hazard the move.

It is difficult to predict which party would prevail in fresh legislative elections. The NUPES leftists could capture many more seats by capitalising on the popular movement against pension reform. But observers warn that the hard-right RN, thriving on the growing discontent in French society, would be the most likely winner. The Assembly could then be more fragmented than ever, making the existence of a majority unlikely.

More protests and strikes

The next stage in the pension reform saga will also play out in the streets. After the government’s decision to use 49.3, France’s group of trade unions met and denounced “a denial of democracy” and the passage of the bill “by force”.

“Today, it is this exemplary social movement that demonstrates that the president of the Republic and his government have failed before the National Assembly,” the eight main French unions wrote in their statement.

The inter-union group called for “local rallies” over the weekend of March 18 and a ninth day of strikes and protests across France on Thursday, March 23.

After weeks of peaceful mobilisations, the street protests could intensify in a way that escapes the control of the unions. Several spontaneous demonstrations took place in French cities after Borne used 49.3, leading to multiple incidents and arrests.

>> French unions see threat of Yellow Vest rerun over Macron’s retirement push

Towards a popular referendum?

The NUPES leftists prefer to reserve several options in their fight against Macron’s pension reform. If a vote of no confidence fails, launching a type of referendum called a référendum d’initiative partagée (a shared-initiative referendum, or RIP) could be another option.

A constitutional tool available to parliamentarians, the RIP allows for a popular referendum to be held on a bill if 185 French lawmakers (one-fifth of the combined 577 lower-house deputies and 348 upper-house senators) supports it. An RIP must also be supported by 4.87 million French voters, or a tenth of the electorate, whose signatures must be collected within nine months.

The procedure would allow the pension plan’s opponents “to block the implementation of reform for nine months”, according to Socialist Deputy Valérie Rabault, a vice president of the Assembly. But “if an RIP is triggered” on [the question of] pensions, “it must be before the enactment of the law”, she said.

However, according to French Communist Party Deputy Stéphane Peu, who along with Rabault is a member of NUPES, the left-wing coalition has had the support of the necessary 185 lawmakers since March 14, two days before Borne invoked 49.3. Peu’s bill will propose that “the retirement age cannot exceed 62”, he said.

The Constitutional Council

The RIP is not the last option for opponents if the no-confidence votes fail to pass. “There would have been several appeals to the Constitutional Council against this text had it passed by vote,” said Charles de Courson, a LIOT deputy, on March 14.

Mathilde Panot, the leader of the far-left La France Insoumise (France Unbowed, LFI) party in the Assembly, has promised that the left will appeal to the council. The NUPES will argue that the reform, which was inserted into the social security budget, is a legislative rider, since the text addresses more than just finances.

Left-wing deputies intend to rely on the opinion of France’s Conseil d’État (Council of State), which had warned the government of a risk that certain measures in its pension reform plan, as well as the plan’s lack of clear calculations, were unconstitutional.

This article is a translation of the original in French.

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