Leading Swedish retailer H&M sparked outrage after releasing what is being regarded as an insensitive online campaign featuring a black child modeling a hoodie with the slogan “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle.” The image has caused an uproar worldwide, with many celebrities taking to social media to express their concern.
Singer The Weeknd, who collaborated with H&M in 2017, tweeted that he will no longer be working with the retailer after being “deeply offended.”
— The Weeknd (@theweeknd) January 8, 2018
Rapper G-Eazy also took to Instagram to express his disappointment. “After seeing the disturbing image yesterday, my excitement over our global campaign quickly evaporated, and I’ve decided at this time our partnership needs to end. Whether an oblivious oversight or not, it’s truly sad and disturbing that in 2018, something so racially and culturally insensitive could pass by the eyes of so many (stylist, photographer, creative, and marketing teams) and be deemed acceptable.”
Sean “Diddy” Combs, Lebron James, and Manchester United footballer Romelu Lukaku also took to social media to share their disappointment at H&M’s campaign. “Put some respect on it!!,” said Combs, who reposted the image on his Instagram and Twitter feeds, and edited it so that the slogan read: “Coolest King in the world.”
Put some respect on it!! When you look at us make sure you see royalty and super natural God sent glory!! Anything else is disrespectful. pic.twitter.com/QVaxgngwh1
— Diddy (@Diddy) January 8, 2018
James shared a similarly altered image, replacing the slogan with “Black is Beautiful.” He expressed his disappointment with H&M’s oversight, writing “I see a Young King!! The ruler of the world, an untouchable force that can never be denied!”
After removing the image from its website, H&M issued an apology. “We agree with all the criticism that this has generated – we have got this wrong and we agree that, even if unintentional, passive or casual racism needs to be eradicated wherever it exists. This incident is accidental in nature, but this doesn’t mean we don’t take it extremely seriously or understand the upset and discomfort it has caused.”
After assessing the situation, H&M removed the hoodie from sale and has stated that all garments will be recycled. This has not resolved the controversy everywhere, though, as South African protesters trashed H&M outlets in Johannesburg. Amid fears for the safety of employees and customers, stores have been temporarily closed. H&M tweeted a statement taking the blame for the outrage: “We stress that our store staff had nothing to do with our poor judgement of producing the children’s hoodie and the image.”
— H&M (@hm) January 13, 2018
The child model’s mother, Terry Mango, a Kenyan national living in Sweden, later spoke out to say she did not understand the outrage. “Am the mum [sic] and this is one of hundreds of outfits my son has modeled… Stop crying Wolf all the time, unnecessary issue here… Get over it,” she wrote on a social media post, which has since been removed.
This is not the first time that H&M has found itself embroiled in controversy. In 2013, the retailer was accused of poor working conditions at one of its manufacturing destinations in Bangladesh when the building caught fire, leading to the death of 1 138 workers. The company has pledged to improve conditions.
Words by Madiha Sheikh and Khaoula Ghanem