L’Oreal, a $5 billion multinational that bills itself as “the world’s leading beauty company,” had a press release on the Corporate Social Responsibility Newswire yesterday, flagging the $2 million it raised for the Children’s Specialized Hospital Foundation, which “serves children affected by brain injury, spinal cord injury, premature birth, autism, developmental delays, and life-changing illnesses.”

I’m positive L’Oreal must be directing a significant amount of money each year toward corporate philanthropy (see below for more on that), but my reaction when I saw that headline was, “$2 million? Really?? Is that it? Surely you can do better than 1/25th of one percent of your annual revenue for needy kids.” And on closer inspection, this turns out to be $2 million the company has raised not this year but since 2008. And it isn’t even L’Oreal’s money, but donations it helped raise through a charity golf outing.

I’m not often moved to write blog posts like this, but the “news” in this press release is so lame as to be offensive. In fact, L’Oreal devotes a significant amount of resources to its philanthropic foundation, which appears to be doing good work of various kinds, all over the world. Why bother, then, to crow about a fairly paltry sum that the company itself didn’t even donate? Probably for the same reason that Unette Corporation, Century Packaging, Inc., RockTenn, Packaging Corporation of America, and Walker International are mentioned in the release as “suppliers, donors, and sponsors” — for the corporate social irresponsibility value of cheap advertising.

This is very obviously not a new issue. Nor is it something that’s going to shatter the earth. But given the fact that it’s a struggle to undertake truly valuable corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs, or even to highlight the efforts that are worthy, putting out a press release like this only makes the task more difficult. Would it have hurt L’Oreal for the headline to have read “Children’s Specialized Hospital Foundation Raises $550,000,” which is actually what happened?

Then again, L’Oreal is a company devoted to surface and image; how could they have played it any other way?