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H&M investigated by Swedish Government for racism in homeland stores

By Don-Alvin Adegeest

14 Dec 2020

H&M is being investigated by Sweden’s government Equality Ombudsman (DO) as it faces allegations of racism in its homeland stores.

The high street giant was the subject of a report by Aftonbladet, a Swedish broadsheet, which showed footage from a hidden camera when a foreign woman was denied an exchange of purchased items without a receipt, while a Swedish national from the newspaper was able to do so, reported Reuters.

H&M’s returns policy states a receipt is not required if the items are still available on its shop floor.

H&M has not responded directly to the allegations, but in a post on its Swedish Facebook page acknowledged it was under scrutiny. “DO has decided to initiate an inspection of the company H&M. The background is the media information that claims that the company treats people with an ethnic affiliation other than Swedish and disadvantages them, among other things, by demanding a receipt when changing goods in violation of the company’s policy,” DO said.

“The purpose of the inspection is to clarify whether there has been a violation of the prohibition of discrimination for which the company is responsible,” it said in a statement.

DO does not have the authority to impose sanctions but is, after forming an opinion itself, able take a case to court for a ruling whether discrimination legislation has been violated, said Reuters.

This is not H&M’s first accusation of racism. Back in 2018 the company found itself in the middle of a social media storm when its online catalogue featured an advertisement of a black boy sporting a hoodie with the slogan “Coolest monkey in the jungle.” At the time the company tried to quash the criticism by apologising and withdrawing the ad and the item from sale.

Making an effort to improve diversity

In August this year H&M group appointed its first global head of diversity and inclusivity after CNN reported a product in its & Other Stories was given a racist name in its internal communications. “We take the use of racially offensive language extremely seriously,” company spokesperson Ulrika Isaksson said at the time. “While internal and external investigations are taking place, we have suspended the team and managers responsible for this area of the business.”

Image via H&M website