Inking big deals with Black A-listers, the company behind the racist ad and a fashion brand called Monki has no people of color in top positions
By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
They are stylish, savvy and keeping the world’s second largest retailer on top of the retail industry with some $22 billion in revenues. Seeking to boost their profit margins, they’ve inked deals with Beyonce and other big-name Black celebrities.
Despite their polished resumes and impressive track records, H&M’s corporate executives—the force behind the global retailer’s astronomical success are anything but Black.
Trying to handle a massive backlash after running a racist ad featuring a Black boy in a hoodie, H&M may want to solve the problem by starting at the top. Despite its growing Black customer base and deals with hip hop artists, none of H&M’s executives or Board of Directors are Black, according to a survey by the Chicago Crusader.
1. Anna Gedda, Head of H&M Sustainability
2. Samuel Fernström, Creative Director, H&M
3. Helena Helmersson, Global Head of Production
4. Peter Klagsmark, Managing Director, Cheap Monday
5. Marie Honda, Managing Director, COS
6. Jyrki Tervonen, Chief Financial Officer
7. Lea Rytz Goldman, Managing Director, Monki
8. Anders Sjöblom, Managing Director, H&M Home
9. Kristina Stenvinkel, Director of Communications
10. David Thörewik, Managing Director, Weekday
11. Helena Thybell, Head of Global HR
12. Karl-Johan Persson, CEO
13. Katja Ahola Klamkin, Head of Global Expansion H&M Group
14. Kjell Olof Nilsson, Director of Business Development
15. Helene Fredell, Section Head H&M HOME
16. Michael Hafner, Regional Sales Manager
17. Sofia Carpenter, Area Visual Europe South
18. Andreas Sjunnesson, Store Manager
19. Anna Norling, Assortment Director, Cheap Monday
20. Randall April, Country HR
21. Michelle Pang, Studio Manager, COS
22. Stefan Perrson, Chairman of the Board of Directors
23. Stina Bergfors, Board Member
24. Anders Dahlvig, Member of the Auditing Committee
25. Lena Patriksson Keller, Board Member
26. Christian Sievert, Chairman of the Auditing Committee
27. Erica Wiking Häger, Member of the Auditing Committee
28. Niklas Zennström, Board Member
29. Margareta Welinder, Employee Representative
30. Ingrid Godin, Employee Representative
31. Rita Hansson, Deputy Employee Representative
32. Alexandra Rosenqvist, Deputy Employee Representative
In response to the racial problems, HM, on Wednesday, January 17, announced that it had appointed Annie Wu as its newly-created global leader for diversity and inclusiveness. Wu had been HM’s global manager for employee relations for 9 months, according to her resume posted on her LinkedIn online account. Questions remain as to why HM did not appoint a Black person to the diversity position. One new report described Wu as a woman of color, but there is no photo of her anywhere online, HM’s website and Wu’s Linkedin account. USA Today reported that Wu was once director of labor relations for New York City’s Department of Homeless Services.
Long before the latest crisis rocked the Swedish retailer, H&M made advertising and marketing moves that offended Blacks while maintaining an executive team that did not include a single person of color. With its reputation and influence, H&M could have reeled in a Black executive to avoid future mistakes, but for the retailer, it was business as usual as racial issues reared their ugly head from time to time.
Last weekend, dozens of protestors in South Africa, known as the Economic Freedom Fighters, expressed their anger by storming several H&M stores, shattering mirrors and pulling down clothing racks, mannequins and clothing displays. H&M has closed 17 stores since the demonstrations, and it is uncertain when H&M will re-open them, as protestors vow to continue trashing more stores.
On January 16, in addressing diversity and inclusiveness on its Facebook page, H&M stated they have appointed a global leader, but the retailer has not provided a name or photo of the employee.
This latest crisis is turning out to be H&M’s biggest one yet, and the retailer’s crafted apology may not be enough to correct its image as one that disrespects Blacks. With no terminations resulting from the insulting ad and no Blacks at the table, H&M’s predominantly white leadership is seeking redemption and may be forced to take more action that is louder than mere words.
With information obtained from H&M’s 2016 corporate governance report, the Crusader has learned that out of 33 leaders and executives, including the CEO and the CFO, none of them are Black. Most these top executives have Swedish surnames, including the CEO Karl-Johan Persson and CFO Jyrki Tervonen.
Of the 22 executives, 14 are male with Swedish names. Among the eight women, most have Swedish, Jewish and Asian names.
H&M’s Board of Directors is no different. Not one of the 12 members is Black. Seven are women; again, most have Swedish names.
Despite having no Blacks in the boardroom, over the years, these H&M executives have managed to snag Beyonce, Nikki Minaj, Chris Brown, and Kevin Hart to promote their brand. Now, these celebrities and other stars are distancing themselves from H&M to send a message and perhaps to protect their own reputations as well.
H&M has made moves that have offended Blacks in the past, but what started this avalanche of defections was an ad in January that featured a Black boy wearing a green hoodie with the inscription, “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle.” In the ad, a white kid wears an orange hoodie that says, “Survival Expert.” A firestorm on social media ensued before H&M removed the ad and issued an apology, but the damage had been done.
Recording artists Nikki Minaj, The Weeknd and G-Easy have all cut ties with H&M because of the ad. Twitter users accused H&M of being “racially insensitive.” P. Diddy and NBA star LeBron James have also criticized H&M.
In a letter to H&M, the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) stated H&M “not only shows a disregard for the African-American consumer, but also a very disturbing lack of regard for the African-American community. This is a very pivotal time in America where the racial divide is at an all-time high. We are presented with a great opportunity and a responsibility to demonstrate that inclusion is the catalyst that will advance us towards a unified nation and world that we need.”
The Chicago Crusader sent several emails asking if there would be terminations from the fallout and absence of Black executives in the corporate ranks. H&M has yet to respond.
H&M says the ad went wrong, but the retailer is not addressing the root of the problem: the absence of Blacks in its corporate ranks. Had there been a Black executive at H&M, many believe the ad would never have run. To many consumers, especially Blacks, it was clear that something was wrong, but to its lily-white executive and leadership team, the ad was perfectly fine.
It’s a situation that shows that Blacks are needed in high positions, especially those that deal with people of color in advertisements and the media.
“These offenses are more about the makeup of the rooms where they happen than the items they produce. There is a concentration of power committed to exclusion, whether casual, accidental or conscious,” said actor Jesse Williams, who in December starred in a special H&M holiday video with Nicki Minaj. “This old-world, white power, failing-upward culture of reckless trampling that repeatedly exposes itself is boring already.”
Comedian Marlon Wayans told TMZ, “I think that they need some Blacks in their company that look over s— before you put it out. You go, ‘What do you think of this?”
Past incidents show that racial problem at H&M, but do executives see it, is the bigger question. Then again, why doesn’t a retailer who courts Black celebrities have any Blacks at the top of their company? And with Blacks all over the world being depicted as monkeys in the media for years, how does a crop of smart executives not be aware of this stereotype. Are they clueless or simply racists?
For decades, corporate boardrooms that have operations in America and abroad have drawn criticism for their lack of diversity or absence of Blacks among their executive ranks. Some believe companies would do better with Black executives who would not only reflect a diverse consumer market, but with their ethnic and cultural awareness, would help avoid flawed advertising and marketing campaigns that inadvertently offend minorities, including Blacks.
On Jan. 15, H&M agreed to meet with the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, which reportedly said the H&M management and marketing division should undergo anti-racism and diversity training.
In 2015, H&M drew criticism after opening its first store in South Africa using only white models. After receiving complaints, H&M released a statement that implied white models conveyed a “positive image.” H&M was forced to apologize for the statement.
Two years earlier when Beyonce promoted the H&M brand, the retailer was accused of digitally altering original shots of the star’s curves to make her look slimmer. Beyonce reportedly insisted on H&M using her natural images.
Many Black women, like Beyonce and tennis star Serena Williams, have always been criticized for not resembling the Barbie doll, all-American poster girl. Once again, a Black executive would have communicated this to H&M if he or she had the opportunity.
Currently, H&M has a successful clothing brand called Monki, a Scandinavian and Asian-infused fashion style line that started in 2006. Monki has a Facebook page that includes Blacks wearing Monki apparel. Monki has stores in many countries, but none in the U.S.
With its exclusive, but affordable lines with big-name designers, H&M continues to attract budget-conscious Blacks to its stores.
Founded in Sweden in 1947, H&M, in the last decade, has aggressively expanded its retail empire in America and across the globe. Today, H&M has 160,000 employees at 4,500 stores in 69 markets around the world. It’s the second largest clothing retailer behind Inditex, the parent company of Zara.
In the last five years, sales have increased with $192.27 billion in 2016, according to H&M’s annual statement. In the summer of 2013, Beyonce served as the face of H&M. A publicly-traded company, H&M stock has been hovering around $159 despite the negative publicity in recent weeks.