South African protesters want H&M to know that casual racism, even by accident, has real consequences.
Members of a left-wing, youth-oriented political movement stormed H&M stores around the country on Jan. 13. Dressed in the party’s signature red, members of the Julius Malema-led Economic Freedom Fighters protested an H&M advertisement featuring a black boy wearing a hoodie with the words, “coolest monkey in the jungle.” The image, featured in the Swedish retailer’s UK site, caused international uproar.
Groups of protestors went to various H&M stores across the country, including several malls in Johannesburg, in the capital Pretoria, and in the northern Limpopo province. In Cape Town, the store manager read the retailer’s statement to irate protesters.
The party chose to protest on a Saturday when malls are packed with shoppers, presumably to have maximum impact, and it seems to have worked. H&M was forced to close its stores to avoid further damage. Some protestors have reportedly demanded that the chain close its doors permanently in South Africa.
H&M had issued an apology in response to complaints about the hoodie and its model. The company assured South African customers that the offensive hoodie will not be stocked in the country.
That, however, did nothing to assuage the anger of the consumers here who have taken H&M to task before over perceived racism. When H&M opened its first store in South Africa in 2015, a local shopper questioned the lack of black models in its campaign. H&M’s response that its ads were meant to convey “a positive image” infuriated South Africans on social media.
H&M has not yet responded to a media query over the demonstrations in South Africa.