Representatives of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation (AKF) and Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) recently travelled to Sweden to meet with retail outlet H&M following their publishing of the racist ‘hoodie’ advert earlier this year.

H&M published an advert of an African 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’ resulting in outrage on social media and demonstrations by the EFF at H&M stores in South Africa.

Executive Directors of the AKF and IJR, Neeshan Balton and Stanley Henkeman met H&M’s group CEO and various divisions involved in the pre and post-production advertising and marketing process.

With a presentation titled “Words and Images Matter”, the aim was to draw a clear representation of the racist, historical associations of black people with monkeys. The presentation detailed the views of philosophers and scientists who commonly used pseudo-scientific justifications for racism and slavery.  This provided the context in which the advert was seen, and stressed why it was vital for a global retailer such as H&M to be aware of the history, diversity and racial sensitivities in the different countries they operate in.

“Outcomes derived from this visit were that H&M would be sending representatives from their headquarters to participate in a diversity and inclusion programme that will be conducted by the IJR in South Africa. In addition to this, H&M will also be re-evaluating their marketing division’s processes and also sourcing the assistance of a South African advertising agency in an attempt to ensure a higher level of understanding of local audiences within their advertising campaigns,” Balton said.

Further engagement with members of the company’s Board of Directors is also expected to take place in the coming weeks.

The presentation in Stockholm followed a workshop earlier this year that was co-hosted with the Swedish Embassy and the Anti-Racism Network South Africa (ARNSA), which both the AKF and IJR are part of. The programme included the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the Centre for Unity in Diversity (De Klerk Foundation), Common Wealth Business Women, Section 27, Desmond and Leah Tutu Foundation, the Economic Development Department, the South African Council of Churches (SACC), the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), the Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA) and youth representatives. Importance was placed on contextualising the incident by explaining the historical global and local contexts of racism and after a robust discussion, suggestions were given on how H&M can develop systems that can prevent such incidents in future.

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