Respect for Each Other and the Duty of Memory

23/06/2020

The worldwide response to the May 25 death of George Floyd has been remarkable. Yet even while the extent of the outrage sends out a signal of hope, it also stands as a stark reminder in 2020 that our “modern” world is far from being done with racism and the violence it provokes. I am deeply convinced that this evil can only be confronted by actively seeking to know each other better — and this begins by knowing History.

Three years ago, during my first trip to Senegal to meet with the country’s authorities, I asked to visit Gorée in the harbor of Dakar. On this island of remembrance, in the “House of Slaves”, I could feel the weight of the history of the African slave trade. It is a legacy of violence and suffering, that we need to look squarely in the face, to better perceive its ramifications in our society today. Taking the time to honor the memory of this tragic period is essential, as it reminds us how important it is to always respect others.

In that spirit, I participated last week in the first sponsorship committee of the Fondation pour la Mémoire de l’Esclavage (“Foundation for the Memory of Slavery”), of which our corporate foundation has been a member since its creation. Seeking greater knowledge and acknowledging our past is a source of further openness and integration. Its purpose transcends borders and time. Once again, the goal is to know better, to understand better — not to try and reconcile incompatible points of view, but to find a way to move beyond them.

“Taking into account, and respecting, differences strengthens our ability to work together, and live together.”

Becoming the responsible energy major requires us to adopt an exemplary code of conduct that is perfectly in line with our values. Total boasts 100,000 employees in 130 countries across every continent. Knowing how to adapt to local particularities (whether historical, linguistic, cultural, religious, social or linked to people’s origins) is an essential aspect of our operations. Taking into account, and respecting, differences strengthens our ability to work together, and live together. Diversity, as much as union, is strength.

This is also why, back in 2017, I insisted that our company adopt a “Guide to Dealing with Religious Questions within the Group”, to provide each manager and employee with a framework for reflection and actions when handling these sensitive matters. To me, one of the most valuable aspects of this Guide is the perspective and knowledge it offers on religions, some of which we may have trouble fully grasping. And this knowledge helps us understand each other better.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a cornerstone for Total. Beyond this historic Declaration, we have been committed to respecting the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights since its implementation by the UN in 2011. Refusing all forms of discrimination, as well as striving for diversity and inclusion, are pillars of our Human Rights policy. We have put structures in place and adopted tools: an ethics committee, a code of conduct, practical guides on human rights and integrity, as well as a system to alert, advise and support. Our employees have these tools at their disposal on a daily basis — and some may use them to be leaders among our employees and clients on the issue. So in 2017, upon reaffirming the values of our Group, Respect for Each Other naturally found its place as a company core value.

“As the news reminds us, mutual respect is a value that is under attack everywhere ... and at the same time, people seem to be fighting harder than ever for it.”

I know that there’s still a long way to go, and it involves challenging systems in depth— both within our companies and throughout society. The past must not be forgotten, the present is in our hands, and let’s not forget that the future belongs to the youth. It is essential to promote access to education to empower the younger generation, and allow them to become the enlightened citizens of tomorrow.

As the news reminds us, mutual respect is a value that is under attack everywhere ... and at the same time, people seem to be fighting harder than ever for it. I strongly believe that the increasing awareness, the fight against injustice and for the respect of everyone's rights and the changes that will result can only be the fruit of common will and united action. And this path of solidarity will be guided by a deeper understanding of our History.

Patrick Pouyanné, chairman and CEO of Total