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Remember the clothing catalog fiasco surrounding H&M’s choice for who to model its “coolest monkey in the jungle” hoodie? While the global retail giant would probably like to forget about it, part of what it hopes will be a healing process has included an international apology tour.

That was true last week when the company discussed its racist blunder during the Anti-Racism Network South Africa conference in Johannesburg, according to IOL, a South African news outlet that covered the event. But for many, the image of a dark-skinned child wearing the garment with wording that evoked racist stereotypes for Black people was inexcusable.

“This was a big mistake and we simply got it wrong,” H&M’s manager for South Africa, Oldouz Mirzaie, told conference attendees in stating the obvious.

To try to rectify the situation, Mirzaie said H&M has been working 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.”

Amazingly, H&M failed to mention the very pink elephant in the room: an obvious lack of diversity in decision-makers at the company who, had they been in place, would have almost absolutely sounded the alert on what was clearly feeding into racist tropes about Black people.

In fact, a closer look at the company’s leadership seemed to reveal that there was not one single Black person in a corporate position. While that was not able to be immediately confirmed as fact, H&M’s website for “organisation and management” showed that neither the company’s top leaders nor its leadership for the H&M brand, in particular, named a single Black person.

That would suggest that perhaps H&M didn’t get the full memo that Black customers resoundingly told them after the racist public relations nightmare in January. This, even as profits plunged as a result. All of which could suggest that while H&M did, in fact, learn a valuable lesson in the unfortunate episode, it wasn’t completely committed to correcting the error of its ways by seeking to fill an obvious company-wide void of diversity to help keep it honest in future ad campaigns that include anyone but its lily-white clientele.


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The New York Times headquarters along 8th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, New York City
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