Companies have a responsibility to take a public stance on topics such as gender inequality, Kering chairman and chief executive officer François-Henri Pinault told the annual Women’s Forum meeting in Paris on Wednesday.
The luxury boss credited his wife, Mexican actress Salma Hayek, for sensitizing him to the issue of violence against women by introducing him to playwright Eve Ensler, the author of “The Vagina Monologues,” at the beginning of their relationship.
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The couple have been vocal champions of women’s issues through their work with the Kering Foundation, which aims to combat violence against women, and the Women in Motion initiative, a precursor of the #MeToo movement. Launched in Cannes in 2015, the program hopes to shed light on women’s contribution to film.
“Companies in the 21st century, we need to have a sense of purpose that goes much beyond our business goals as part of the strategy of the company, as part of the culture of the company, and we shouldn’t be afraid as companies, as leaders, to take bold public positions on certain very important societal topics,” Pinault told presenter Star Jones at the forum.
For example, he noted that Gucci recently took a position against child marriage through its Chime for Change initiative by partnering with Pakistani director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy on an animated short film, “Sitara,” about a young girl whose dream of being a pilot is crushed when she is forced into child marriage.
“So let’s not be afraid of doing that. That’s the right thing to do. We have to be sincere when we do that. Let’s do that for our own people, but also for the community. It’s just a matter of endorsing our responsibilities toward all the communities we’re interacting with,” Pinault argued.
Kering has also taken steps to redress its missteps. Following allegations that models were mistreated at a casting for one of its brands, the group — which owns labels including Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta and Balenciaga — set up a charter with rival LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton to guarantee the well-being of models.
Meanwhile, Gucci has launched a series of initiatives to achieve cultural diversity and awareness throughout its organization and activities globally, following accusations that a Gucci balaclava-style sweater evoked blackface.
Pinault said senior executives at all of its brands follow compulsory training programs on how to detect signs of domestic violence, and its programs extend to all corners of the globe.
“We have a very specific and operational program on sexual harassment on campuses in America, for instance. We’ve been working on traditional, harmful sexual practices like excision in Western Europe, in France in particular,” he said. “Domestic violence in China is a very big deal for us.”
While Kering was one of the first companies to address gender discrimination in the film industry, Pinault said it was only the beginning.
“There’s still a lot to be done. Let’s say the wall of silence has been broken, thanks to #MeToo. Let’s hope that this will end the impunity that was almost the rule in that field, but more importantly, let’s hope that this will end up in laws in different countries, but that are enforced,” he said. “I hope that we will come to that.”
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