Fashion giant H&M has suspended a number of employees after they used a racial slur in relation to a product to be sold under its & Other Stories brand. The slur, the N-word, was used to describe a hat that will be a part of the coming autumn collection of accessories. It comes as companies around the world reckon with diversity and inclusion after widespread public outcry over entrenched racial discrimination.
The incident was exposed by a leaked photo uploaded to an internal system, which used the racial slur as part of the name for a purple beanie hat that would be sold under the & Other Stories brand. It was first reported by CNN Business, and employees told reporters that the issue extends to the brand’s parent company H&M, the world’s second biggest fashion retailer.
H&M has since apologised for the use of the racist term, withdrawn the product and suspended the employees and managers responsible, though little information was provided as to how many staff members were involved and what the suspension entails.
“We are deeply sorry to have discovered that one of our brands, & Other Stories, used a racist slur in an internal product overview,” Ulrika Isaksson, a spokesperson for H&M, told Reuters.
“We take the use of racially offensive language extremely seriously. While internal and external investigations are taking place, we have suspended the team and managers responsible for this area of the business.”
In another statement, Helena Helmersson, CEO of H&M, said: “We must improve representation and continue to educate ourselves,” and added that the firm will be ramping up diversity and inclusion policies, including implementing conscious and unconscious bias training amongst its staff members and the creation of an external advisory council to consult on its business strategy.
We are deeply sorry to have discovered that one of our brands, & Other Stories, used a racist slur in an internal product overview.Ulrika Isaksson, H&M Spokesperson
The fashion group has had a history of run-ins over racial discrimination. In 2018, the Swedish company had to apologise for an advertisement that featured a Black child in a green hoodie with a logo that read “coolest monkey in the jungle”.
Companies around the world have been under pressure over the past few weeks following anti-racism protests in the U.S. that were sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a White police officer in Minneapolis. A number well-known brand names have come under fire, including Uncle Ben’s rice, which is owned by Mars Inc., as well as PepsiCo-owned Aunt Jemima maple syrups.
Even brands that had experienced great success for its progressive and eco-friendly business models have been found lacking in diversity and inclusion. For instance, Reformation, a brand that had risen to prominence due to its sustainability ethos, had to grapple with its long-standing racist and toxic work culture under the helms of its founder Yael Aflalo. Aflalo was ultimately forced to step down from her role as CEO.
Lead image courtesy of & Other Stories.