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H&M racial insensitivity: time to move on4 min read

February 9, 2018

H & M store-level employees are still picking up the pieces from major backlash over the monkey sweater modeled by a black child, despite prompt response and sincere apology from company.

Earlier this month, the Swedish fashion brand released an advertisement in the U.K. showcasing a black child model wearing a sweater with the words — “COOLEST MONKEY IN THE JUNGLE” printed across the front.

The internet was quick to pick up on the attention-grabbing scandal and many consumers worldwide rapidly accused H&M of being racist.

H&M has since removed the online ad and taken the product off their shelves globally.

According to Angelo Jimenez, 28, a department supervisor at H&M Hillsdale, the Swedish company “took no chances” and went as far as removing any garments that had any association with monkeys or could be considered offensive in addition to removing all of the offending monkey  sweaters.

“All H&M stores were told to take anything with monkeys, bananas, or even little animals off the floor–that included both the ladies and men departments, not just kids,” stated Steven Torres, 24, a full-time sales associate at H&M Santana Row.

H&M released two official apology statements owning up to the overlooked mistake on its Instagram account on Jan. 9.

“We’re deeply sorry that the picture was taken, and we also regret the actual print,” stated the company in their apology. “The incident is accidental in nature, but this doesn’t mean we don’t take it extremely seriously or understand the…discomfort it has caused,” the company stated in its heartfelt apology via Instagram.

On Jan. 16 the company announced the appointment of a  so-called ‘diversity leader’ to its team on its Facebook page –  in hopes to move forward and learn as a global brand from the mistake.

“Our position is simple – we have got this wrong and we are deeply sorry,” the company admitted in its apology.

Despite the timely action taken by H&M, the company as a whole is still facing major kickback from ‘still-upset’ consumers for the racially insensitive ad. Some  people have extended this to a in-store level to express their disappointment and to gain some degree of satisfaction by getting a reaction from store-level employees.

During the Martin Luther King holiday weekend, unrestful protesters in South Africa vandalized and trashed several H&M stores. The incident led the Swedish company to enforce the need to hire in-store security in all H&M locations worldwide for added protection and to ensure the safety of its customers and employees until things settle both Jimenez and Torres confirmed.

On the same MLK weekend, three associates, including a manager, were sent to the ER due to a pepper-spraying incident at a San Francisco H&M store.

“One manager dodged, and the other unfortunately took it straight on,’ said Brandon Opal, 30, Operations and Training Manager at the San Francisco H&M store where the pepper-spraying incident occurred.

Once the assaults reached the Bay Area, H&M’s Central California District team took matters into their own hands according to both Jimenez and Torres.

“The [district team] has been in contact with us daily, no joke — daily emails, conference calls, everything,” said Jimenez.

Lower level employees have also been affected by the sweater scandal. “It’s just hard to hear how fast people are turning on us,” stated Jimenez. “Being in charge of a team and having to worry about how I’ll handle a situation if someone were to come to our store and cause trouble has caused added stress,” Jimenez later admitted sadly.

However, while it is important to understand that although the sweater scandal is still unforgivable and does not in any way make room for racism, consumers need to more open to the fact that H&M took full responsibility for the ‘monkey-sweater’ mistake and are acting fast by learning from this to ensure it does not happen again in the future.

Moreso, it is equally as important to understand that store-level employees are not the ones to blame since this was out of their control. They’re simply doing what they’re told — their JOB!

“I know it’s not easily forgiving but I believe that the first step is admitting to your mistake and knowing where you messed up,” stated Torres in regards to the apology statements H&M released on their Instagram account.

As the saying goes – We are only human, we make mistakes. Labeling the mistake as racially insensitive is reasonable but choosing to place anymore energy on this deems unnecessary.

First step is admitting their mistake; H&M did just that. Second step was to act and react, which the company also did. I believe it’s about time to move on, people.

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