By Ryan Velez
First was the firestorm of criticism from social media. Then The Weeknd and G-Eazy announced that they would no longer work with H&M. Now, the clothing store has yet another issue, as it shut down all its stores in South Africa following violent protests in several locations.
This all stems from an ad H&M put up in which a Black child wore a sweatshirt that bore the slogan “coolest monkey in the jungle.” It appeared on the British version of the Swedish retailer’s online store. Many considered this to be tone-deaf at best and extremely racist at worst.
H&M said in a statement that it’s “aware of the recent events inside several of our South African stores,” and it has “temporarily” closed all stores in the country. According to the company’s website, H&M has 17 locations in South Africa.
“None of our staff or customers have been injured,” H&M said. “We continue to monitor the situation closely and will open the stores as soon as the situation is safe again.”
H&M issued a statement Monday: “[W]e apologize to anyone this may have offended.”
On Tuesday, the company said it would also “investigate why this happened to prevent this type of mistake from happening again.”
In its statement Saturday, H&M went further.
“We strongly believe that racism and bias in any shape or form, deliberate or accidental, are simply unacceptable,” the statement reads. “We stress that our wonderful store staff had nothing to do with our poorly judged product and image.” There is a shred of truth to this statement, as the divide between advertising execs who came up with it and the people who approved the ads versus the hourly workers most affected by the protests is massive.
The Economic Freedom Fighters, an opposition party, retweeted footage of protesters marching and singing in H&M stores.
The group’s leader, Julius Sello Malema, also shared images of the destruction and comments accusing H&M of racism.
On Twitter Saturday morning, Malema wrote: “We will never be told by any fool on how to fight against our oppression particularly those who have never been at the picket lines. There’s no formula on how you should fight the oppressor, expect more action against all racists, individually and collectively this year.”