Racist Advertising Controversy Hits South Africa’s Biggest Pharmacy ChainSeptember 7, 2020
Clicks Group Ltd. closed some of its shops after seven outlets of South Africa’s biggest pharmacy chain were attacked in an anti-racism protest against a controversial hair-product advertisement.
The retailer went into damage-control mode over the weekend and apologized unreservedly for the promotion published on its website that portrayed the natural hair of a Black person as “dry, damaged, and frizzy,” while the hair of White person was depicted as “normal”.
It has suspended the “negligent employees” held responsible and removed the ad, the Cape Town-based retailer said in a statement Monday. TRESemme, a shampoo maker owned by Dutch consumer-products giantUnilever NV, also issued an apology.
The matter was seized upon by the Economic Freedom Fighters, South Africa’s third-largest political party, which argues for policies that will support the majority black population, including the nationalization and redistribution of land. The group called on supporters to barricade Clicks stores, affecting 37 out of a total of 570, according to the company.
Local news reports and social media posts said that two Clicks outlets were petrol bombed. The company’s store in the biggest mall in Johannesburg’s Sandton financial district was closed with police and EFF protesters milling around outside. One wore a T-shirt in honor of George Floyd, an African-American killed by police officers in Minneapolis in May.
Race remains a highly sensitive issue in South Africa more than a quarter century after apartheid.Nike Inc. temporarily closed stores in the country in 2018 after the husband of an employee wascaught in a racism row over a video he filmed on vacation, where he praised the absence of Black people at the beach. This cameeight months afterHennes & Mauritz AB shuttered outlets following protests against an online ad that featured a Black child modeling a hoodie with the text “coolest monkey in the jungle.”
Race-related protests have escalated since the killing of Floyd. This has led to a renewed push by activists for Africa to do more toconfront racism and the legacy of colonial rule. South Africa’s Human Rights Commission has launched its own investigation into the Clicks matter.
Clicks said it provides much-needed health services to South Africans and it plans to keep trading, with contingency plans in place to “ensure the safety of both customers and staff.” The shares gained 0.4% by the close on Monday.
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