Uber's COO under fire for insensitive racial remarks about its own ad

Uber COO Barney Harford has garnered some negative attention for racist comments he had made about the company’s ad "Moving forward", according to CNBC.

The ad, which was launched approximately a month ago, promoted its ride-hailing services. It featured a mix of people with different ethnicities, booking an Uber ride which then highlights the features in the app - driver details, car plate number, ability to share the ride with friends and family for tracking. The article on CNBC also cited Harford calling the ad “common” with its mixed race couple and “confusing” as it featured “two black women with similar hairstyles”. However, he later told his staff that he “regretted” his choice of words.

According to several media reports, this is not the first time Harford has made insensitive remarks, with matters first being raised in December 2017. He is said to have in the past made insensitive comments about women and people of diverse ethnicities. Currently, Harford is responsible for global ride-sharing strategy, operations, marketing and customer support. He is also responsible for the company's food-delivery business, Uber Eats. He previously served as CEO and board director of Orbitz Worldwide from 2009 to 2015. Orbitz Worldwide was acquired by Expedia for US$1.6bn in 2015.

The news comes amidst Uber's attempt to turn the image of the company around.  The company was under scrutiny last year when there were gender discrimination and harassment accusations, along with the indefinite absence of then CEO, Travis Kalanick. This ultimately led to the board members to dismiss Kalanick.  Following the move, Dara Khosrowshahi, previously a CEO in Expedia, was brought in to shift the image. Khosrowshahi was also featured in the Moving Forward series of ads.

In March this year, according to Recode, Uber agreed to settle a discrimination lawsuit for US$10 million. The lawsuit represented a class of 420 engineers who identified as women or people of colour. The suit said that they were paid a lesser sum.

Marketing has reached out to Uber for a statement.