International clothing retailer H&M has admitted wrongdoing and pledged to examine its South African operations and tackle racism, following protests by members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) at its shops.
This was revealed by the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation’s director Neeshan Balton at the launch of the Anti-Racism Week at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg today.
The EFF protests in January this year saw angry members trashing some of the shops after the retailer published an advert showing a black child wearing a hoodie with the phrase “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle”, contrary to the one worn by a white child with the words “Survival Expert”.
The advert drew widespread criticism across social media platforms, with the retailer accused of racism.
Balton said H&M met with the Anti-Racism Network South Africa (ARNSA) after the foundation wrote to the clothing retailer’s headquarters.
”They admitted they were wrong and are trying to understand how to undo their mistake. Part of that engagement was because of the EFF demonstration. We had planned a demonstration after the EFF launched their protest, we could not proceed because we couldn’t match their scale,” Balton said.
”Subsequent to that, the H&M global human resources head and the transformation officer arrived in the country and agreed to work with the Institute of Justice and Reconciliation in Cape Town, and ensure that [the] South African management team and staff fully understand the complexity of race relations and racism in the country. We are mindful that had the EFF not done what they did, H&M would never have agreed to meet with the ARNSA.”
H&M said it would send their marketing team to work with South African marketing companies. The company would also look into their procurement policy as none of the store furniture, shop fittings and advertising was sourced from South Africa, Bolton added.
The Anti-Racism Week falls between March 14-21, and is held annually during Human Rights month in South Africa.
The campaign aims to create public awareness about racism and how it affects individual citizens and society. The national campaign further encourages South Africans to speak out against racism and report racist incidents.