H&M under fire for 'N*gga Lab Beanie', suspends team and managers

Fashion retail company H&M Group has copped flak for the name of one of its product under its Swedish brand "& Other Stories". According to CNN Business, the product in question is a purple headwear that was named "N*gga Lab Beanie". It is added that the headwear was internally named, and was seen in an internal document uploaded to & Other Stories' product overview system. A quick check by Marketing showed that the said hat is not listed in its product catalogue at the time of writing.

Since then, the online clothing store has released an apology for the product name. In a statement on its website, the company said "it is deeply sorry", adding that it takes the use of "racially inappropriate" language extremely seriously and that this incident is inexcusable. The brand has also suspended the team and managers who are responsible while internal and external investigations are taking place. 

The clothing brand added it will take the strongest possible action to ensure that "racially divisive language or images are not used again". This includes launching a number of initiatives, including mandatory training plan for all staff, further strengthening internal controls of images, products and text it uses, and continuously improving the diversity of its team. 

In a separate statement, Helena Helmersson, CEO of H&M Group, said improving diversity of its teams is "a top priority". In efforts to do so, management teams in its major markets will publish specific targets for improved representation, with a clear timetable and action plan to achieve them by the end of 2020. Subsequently it aims to publish commitments and action plans for inclusion and diversity across all its operating markets by 2021. It will also identify diversity gaps within its headquarters and set goals to increase the diversity of the management teams and the board of directors.

Additionally, H&M Group will be creating an external advisory council with business executives from diverse backgrounds to advise and contribute to its business direction. It will also bring together a peer advisory council made up of its existing employee resource groups globally to work directly with its CEO, head of inclusion and diversity, and the management team to promote inclusion and diversity further.

"We at H&M Group all have a responsibility to build a business that truly reflects, welcomes, and celebrates the diversity of the world we live in. We encourage everyone to continue to speak out against any act of racism, intolerance or hate inside or outside our company," Helmersson said.

This is not H&M's first brush with racially-insensitive products. In 2018, the fashion retailer apologised for an image on its UK online store featuring a black child in a green hoodie, with the phrase "Coolest Monkey in the Jungle" printed on the hoodie. The apology came after it copped flak for the loaded term, as the term "monkey" is often being used in racial and ethnic slurs, especially against the black community.

In response to the incident, H&M appointed Annie Wu as its chief diversity officer, global head of diversity and inclusiveness. Wu was previously global manager for employee relations at H&M Group. She is based in Stockholm at H&M's head office and reports to the group's head of global HR.

Separately last November, the brand also copped flak from women's rights activists for its new tagline "I love GBV", which activists claimed is an acronym for gender-based violence. "I love GBV" is a new tagline to push the new collection with done in partnership with Italian designer Giambattista Valli. H&M stated on its site that "gbv" in the tagline "I love GBV" is an abbreviation to Valli.