Unwelcome rituals: Rituals discriminated against female staff with make-up rule

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Toiletries and lifestyle store Rituals discriminated against female employees by requiring them to wear make-up, according to a ruling by the Dutch human rights council.

The body, which issues non-binding verdicts on reports of discrimination, was following up on a complaint from a former employee.

According to the verdict, all employees are required to abide by internal ‘styling standards’, and rules over necklaces, hair, tatoos and perfume are applied to all employees regardless of gender. But in practice, only women were required to wear make-up on their eyes, lips and nails.

‘Rituals actively checks this at the beginning of the work day,’ according to the verdict. ‘Male store employees can wear make-up, but are not obliged to do this.’

‘Functional make-up’

A woman who was employed by Rituals between 2019 and 2021 claimed this was unlawful, gender-based discrimination. Rituals argued that it did make differences between men and women but had ‘functional and necessary’ reasons to do this, meaning discrimination law did not apply.

However, the council ruled that it was indeed unlawful discrimination, since store workers are able to advise customers about Rituals products and make sales without wearing make-up. ‘Male staff do this already,’ it added.

Although the business might want to advertise its own make-up on its staff, the verdict added that this was a ‘small part’ of its product offering and only the ‘bestsellers’ are even available in store. The rule meant, said the council, that female employees were facing higher demands.


‘The Rituals make up rules mean more is asked of female staff than male staff, at least in terms of their appearance,’ it said. ‘Women have to prepare before work. Rituals checks the female staff and requires them to put on (different) make-up if their appearance is not deemed appropriate. This does not apply to men.’

According the council, Rituals has now changed its style guide so that it is no longer compulsory for female staff to wear make-up.

Employment laywer Hülya Aydemir, of Shellart Advocaten, told NOS that the verdict was valuable in raising awareness of women’s rights at work, however it would only apply to employees at Rituals. Other employers such as airlines still have make-up rules that differ between men and women.

Rituals, a certified B Corp which stresses its sustainability ambitions, reportedly has 4,600 employees and last year made profits of €1.1bn, up almost a quarter on the previous year.

In a reaction to Dutch News Rituals said that following the former employee’s complaint it reviewed the company’s styling guidelines, including the wearing of make up. ‘It is up to out staff to decide whether they want to wear make up or not,’ a spokeswoman for Rituals said.

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