H&M responds to ‘racist hoodie advert’ at Anti-Racism conference. FILE PICTURE
Durban - International fashion retailer H&M has learnt its lesson the hard way as negative sentiment towards the company escalated to more than 70% following its “racist hoodie advert” this year.

The retailer shared insights about the interventions it employed, in a two-day conference hosted by the Anti-Racism Network South Africa (ARNSA) last week.

H&M’s manager for South Africa, Oldouz Mirzaie, told the conference that removing the racist hoodie advert and the hoodie itself from stores was not enough.

She said questions were raised after the incident about whether H&M was a racist company, but its position was and still is very clear.

“This was a big mistake and we simply got it wrong,” she told delegates.

In January, H&M was embroiled in a racist scandal after it posted an advert of a black boy advertising a hoodie with the words “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” emblazoned across the front.

H&M “apologised unreservedly” for the advert on its international website at the time. The advert prompted members of the EFF to target and close down several local branches.

They demanded H&M shut down its local operations in the country.

Speaking at the conference, themed “Pathways to anti-racism”, Mirzaie said the company had to come to the realisation that its processes were not good enough.

There had to be a diversity of thought and perspective, “not just diversity through what meets the eye”.

The global fashion retailer also had training sessions for staff and management at its global offices, while training of staff in South Africa was attended by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC).

“We also teamed up with a black-owned creative and advertising agency. We intend on taking the processes that we have implemented in South Africa, and at our head offices in Sweden, globally into the stores that we have in various countries,” Mirzaie said.

She added that the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation played a “transformative role” during the change.

Stan Henkeman from the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation said the H&M case study could have important lessons for South African businesses about how to deal with racism.

Gift Kgomosotho from the SAHRC said businesses in South Africa needed to think deeper about transformation as it was “not just a numbers game”. Kgomosotho said that while H&M has had successes based on interventions, transformation was an ongoing process.

Leading political parties and various civic groups and government departments were also part of the conference at Mancosa’s Johannesburg campus in Auckland Park.

The Mercury