Hair advert: Clicks CEO apologises and suspends employees, but EFF shutdown to continue

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Clicks is under fire for depicting black hair as damaged and dry on its website.
Clicks is under fire for depicting black hair as damaged and dry on its website.
  • Clicks CEO Vikesh Ramsunder has apologised for an "offensive" advertisement on its website, depicting black women's hair as "damaged". 
  • Ramsunder said the ad had been removed and the responsible employees suspended. 
  • Despite the apology, the EFF has vowed to "shut down" Clicks stores nationwide in protest.

Clicks Group CEO Vikesh Ramsunder has apologised for the "insensitive and offensive" advertisement published on its website, but the EFF has vowed to continue with its nationwide shutdown of the chain's stores.

The advert, which went viral on Friday and sparked outrage, included pictures of four women - two black and two white. News24 earlier reported that the advert described the hair of the two black women as "dry and damaged" and "frizzy and dull", while the description for the white women's hair was "fine and flat" and "normal".

As a result, the EFF threatened to "shut down" all Clicks stores from Monday to Friday this week.

"Fighters, tomorrow all of us in the morning, we are reporting to the nearest Clicks store to ensure that the directive of the EFF is implemented," EFF secretary-general Marshall Dlamini said in a video statement on Sunday.

In a late-night statement on Sunday, Ramsunder said he was "deeply disappointed that we allowed insensitive and offensive images to be published on our website".

"I apologise unreservedly for the hurt and anger these images have caused. The emotive responses of our customers have been mirrored by our employees and management teams. And, whilst the images and content were provided to us by our supplier, Tresemmé, this does not absolve us from blame.

"This is why we took accountability for this error of judgement by issuing a public apology and swiftly removing the offensive material from our website.    

"Over the past few days, I have reflected deeply on what it means to be a proudly South African corporate citizen and have consulted widely with diverse stakeholders to assist me in developing a comprehensive response to make amends for our error," Ramsunder said.

Employees suspended    

"Already, the negligent employees have been suspended, and we have engaged the supplier, who has now also issued an apology. This incident has highlighted the need to audit all of our third party (and our own) promotional material for any implicit or explicit bias as well as the need for diversity and inclusivity training for all of our head office employees. This will be urgently implemented," Ramsunder added.  

"Over the past weekend, we have convened an extraordinary board meeting to agree [on] our next steps. This includes prioritising our diversity and inclusion training programme. We will be re-looking at its content, extend it wider and implement with more urgency and focus.     

"As a long-term advocate for natural hair, Clicks has invested heavily in the natural hair market over the past three years. We work with an extensive list of suppliers – more than 20 – to ensure that we stock more than 40 natural haircare ranges in our stores. Since 2005, we have grown the number of natural hair products on shelf by over 4 000%.    

"As a company, we cannot change what happened, but we are learning from this. We are committed to effecting real, systemic change across our business that reflects our pride in being a truly South African company. We have done a lot in terms of transformation. This issue has clearly highlighted that we have a lot more to do," said Ramsunder.   

Shutdown going ahead

"We appeal to all stakeholders to engage with us so that we redress actions to demonstrate our commitment to diversity and inclusion. We will take the necessary precautionary steps to ensure the safety and well-being of our customers and our employees. This includes dealing with the threat of the disruption of our business activities and intimidation of our customers and employees," Ramsunder added.   

Dlamini told News24 on Monday morning that the party would go ahead with its protest action at Clicks stores. 

The retailer indicated on its Twitter page that it would be business as usual at stores on Monday, despite the EFF's planned shutdown.

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