H&M Apologizes After Accusations of Racist Ad, Reviews 'Internal Routines'

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Credit: H&M

H&M has removed and apologized for an online ad depicting a black child in a sweatshirt with text reading "Coolest Monkey in the Jungle." The image, which was viewable on the fast-fashion retailer's U.K. site, drew controversy over the weekend as social media users noticed it and shared their outrage. By Monday morning, the Swedish brand had removed the image.

"We sincerely apologize for this image," the company said in a statement. "It has been removed from all online channels and the product will not be for sale in the United States. We believe in diversity and inclusion in all that we do."

When asked how the brand intends to prevent such issues in the future, a spokeswoman says H&M will be "reviewing our internal routines."

Indeed, as of late morning on Monday, the green sweatshirt was not on H&M's U.S. site. On the U.K. site, the product is still for sale, but the image does not include a child model, unlike H&M's other apparel items, which are modeled by kids.

The apology did little to sway The Weeknd, who said on Monday that he would no longer work with the retailer. The singer had collaborated with H&M on clothing collections, the most recent of which debuted this past fall.

Consumers did not hold back in their fury over the weekend. Charles Blow, a New York Times op-ed columnist, asked on Twitter, "h&m, have you lost your damned minds?!?!?!"

Producer Yaba Blay Tweeted, "I hereby publicly offer my services to companies who got the memo that they really should diversify their imagery and include Black people, BUT who don't know enough about the history of racism and representation to do it properly and/or well," and cc'd Dove and Urban Outfitters, two brands that have also come under fire for perpetuating racist stereotypes in ads.

Last October, Dove ran a body wash ad depicting a black woman removing her shirt to uncover a white woman underneath. The Unilever-owned brand immediately pulled the ad and apologized. Last year, Gap was criticized for a U.K. ad that showed boys as "scholars" and girls as "social butterflies." Many said the ad was sexist.

Recent months have not been easy for H&M, which is dealing with sales declines as shoppers turn to competitors such as Zara. For the most-recent quarter ended Nov. 30, the Stockholm-based brand reported a sales decline of 4 percent to 50.4 billion kronor, excluding value-added tax—its biggest drop in a decade, according to reports. The decline fell below company expectations and resulted in a 12 percent stock drop in early December. It was "a significant miss," wrote Raymond James retail analysts in a year-end report.

While H&M's namesake brand is in decline, the company's other brands, such as higher-end offerings Cos and & Other Stories, are doing well, according to executives.

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