Swedish low-cost fashion brand H&M says it has appointed a diversity leader after having been accused of racism over an ad showing a black child dressed in a hoodie reading ‘coolest monkey in the jungle.’
H&M announced the move via its Facebook page on Tuesday evening, insisting that the group’s ‘commitment to addressing diversity and inclusiveness is genuine’ and that it had therefore chosen to ‘appoint a global leader, in this area, to drive our work forward’.
The Stockholm-based company reiterated that ‘the recent incident was entirely unintentional’ but ‘demonstrates so clearly how big our responsibility is as a global brand’.
However the move may have come too late for the brand to totally salvage its reputation, which has been dragged through the mud numerous times in the past few weeks as a result of the ‘insensitive’ image.
Several celebrities lent their voices to the furious criticism, with NBA star LeBron James and rapper Diddy among those who had responded with outrage to the ad.
Meanwhile, rappers The Weeknd and G-Eazy both cut ties with H&M, canceling their partnerships with the brand.
In South Africa, there were protests at some H&M stores, while the response has been somewhat more muted in Europe.
The case highlights how important it has become for multinationals to take into account differences in cultural views and sensitivities between the markets it sells in.
That’s especially true as social media makes it possible for an ad posted in one country to be shared and viewed anywhere else in the world.
H&M’s latest move comes just days after it was revealed that the parents of the young boy at the center of the controversy have had to move from their home in Sweden over fears for their safety – and the safety of their son.
Terry Mango, of Stockholm, Sweden, and her partner Frank Odhiambo spoke out about the outrage that greeted an image of their five-year-old son Liam wearing the sweatshirt emblazoned with the phrase ‘coolest monkey in the jungle’ on a British TV show.
Appearing on ITV’s This Morning on Monday, Terry – who initially raised eyebrows when she said critics should ‘get over it’ – and Frank said they have an ‘obligation to protect’ their children.
‘The most unfortunate thing is that my son is very young and there’s a lot that’s going to come with this and that really shakes me a little bit,’ Frank said on the show, before adding that Liam is unaware of the controversy around the picture.
His father said the thought that Liam could be negatively affected by the race row ‘shakes’ him
‘He believes people love him for his modeling job,’ Terry added.
The parents called for their privacy as a family to be respected, admitting they haven’t had a ‘normal family life’ since the furor broke, and have even had to leave their home in search of respite from the debate.
Frank said: ‘As much as people have gotten involved in this for me, it’s very important to understand that me and Terry, we have a son, we have other children in the home that we are raising and we have an obligation to protect our children.
‘To me if we had a way to take this off I would take it off today. The most unfortunate thing is that my son is very young and there’s a lot that’s going to come with this and that really shakes me a little bit.’
Terry said that Liam believes the interest has been generated by his modeling skills, rather than any controversy around the picture itself.
She explained: ‘He’s seen the pictures and he’s seen pictures online. He believes people love him for his modelling job and that he’s cool and confident in his job.’
Celebrities speak out against H&M ‘racism’ scandal
The H&M image – and the surrounding controversy – quickly went viral after it was shared on Twitter.
Thousands of social media users criticised the advert and celebrities soon joined in the calls for an apology.
Manchester United footballer Romelu Lukaku posted an edited picture of the boy on his Instagram page with ‘Black is Beautiful’ on the hoody instead.
He then wrote: ‘You’re prince soon to be a king. Don’t let anybody tell you different… #blackexcellence.’
NBA star LeBron James has also slammed H&M for the advert. He fumed on social media: ‘U got us all wrong! And we ain’t going for it! Straight up!
‘Enough about y’all and more of what I see when I look at this photo. I see a Young King!! The ruler of the world, an untouchable Force that can never be denied!’
Music mogul P Diddy added his voice to the thousands criticizing the advert
‘We as African Americans will always have to break barriers, prove people wrong and work even harder to prove we belong but guess what, that’s what we love because the benefits at the end of the road are so beautiful!’
US rapper Pusha T and singer The Weeknd have also lashed out at H&M vowing never to work with or buy from the chain again.
Pusha T posted an edited version of the advert with a crown on the model’s head and hoody, with ‘King of the Wold’ in bold type.
He also wrote the caption: ‘Accurate. Never shopped with you ever… not even for Tshirts @hm’.