Unilever to work with government after offensive hair advert uproar
One of the companies at the centre of the racial uproar sparked by the Clicks hair advertisement will be working with the government to increase investment in small, micro and medium enterprise development.
The commitment was made by Unilever CEO Luc-Olivier Marquet in a joint statement with the department of small business development after a meeting with minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni last Friday.
The meeting follows the publication of a racially offensive advert on the Clicks website by Unilever hair brand TRESemmé.
This saw hundreds of Clicks stores countrywide being shut and several damaged during protests by EFF supporters.
“We were shocked to discover that we had supplied images for the Clicks website that portrayed black hair as inferior. This was racist and we apologise unreservedly,” Marquet said. “We immediately began an investigation to understand what happened. At the same time, we began reviewing all the marketing campaigns and images in our SA portfolio to make sure they match our commitment to celebrate all beauty and promote diversity and inclusion.”
He said Unilever had since also set up an advisory board with internal and external experts to review how their hair care products in SA could offer consumers the solutions they wanted in positive and empowering terms.
“Working with the new advisory board, Unilever will develop programmes to deliver immediate support to black hair stylists and small professional salons.”
He said 95% of Unilever products sold in SA were manufactured in the country, but the bulk of the input materials for such manufacturing were imports, which significantly diluted the benefits to SA in the Unilever supply value chain.
Ntshavheni urged strong participation of Unilever in the localisation programme of SA.
“Unilever indicated that they had already identified input materials that could be manufactured locally and committed to work with the department to build capability of SMMEs, in particular black, women and youth-owned and those owned by people with disability to participate meaningfully in this manufacturing,” she said.
The minister, however, said the current R80m enterprise development fund of Unilever was not sufficient for SMME development, but accepted that if commitments on value chain participation made by the company were fulfilled, it would improve this contribution.
She said her department and Unilever Southern Africa had put in place a working team to oversee the implementation and agreed on a time frame to review its progress.
Two weeks ago, Unilever announced that it would withdraw TRESemmé products from retail stores nationwide for 10 days as a demonstration of its remorse for the offensive and racist image used in the hair campaign.
The decision was taken after a meeting with EFF leader Julius Malema, Unilever and Clicks.