On August 14, 2014, OBHS President, Rosemary Sadlier, wrote:
Dear Eton Executives:
Re: Offensive Window Display
The Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) strives to ensure that the history and heritage of Canadians of African origin receive the inclusion and understanding required to create and support a healthy multicultural society.
2014 is the 180th Anniversary of the abolition of slavery going into effect throughout the British Empire and the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights movement in the United States. It is a curious time to create and exhibit items that are profoundly negative in their significance and interpretation to Canadians of African origin and to others committed to diversity.
The OBHS, represented by Rosemary Sadlier, was onsite participating in an interview when the display was removed (www.citynews.ca/2014/08/08/fashion-faux-pas-in-yorkville/) and while this was an important and necessary step, as was the issuance of an apology, more needs to be done to repair this damage to our community. While the OBHS has also reviewed your apology, further steps are required to obtain the public confidence necessary to move forward from this episode.
That you felt this was a ‘whimsical’ display, the imagery used was anything but. It undermines our dignity as per the Canadian Advertising Code not to mention any Canadian Human Rights violations. The ropes as they were knotted appeared to be nooses and did not support the coffin-like briefcase as noted while it was being hoisted up and away while the OBHS was there. The nooses were there to add not whimsical charm, but rather a grotesque reminder of lynching and tyranny directed at African Americans in particular. That the nooses were coupled with cotton balls as if in a field and was a further reinforcement of the trials and challenges of both enslaved Africans and of Black people following the end of enslavement when the nooses, when random lynchings, were carried out as a means of intimidation and control.
On behalf of the “offended” citizens of Toronto, the international community of social media supporters and the Ontario Black History Society, you are urged to:
1. Ensure that your Board of Directors is reflective of and/or contains members from the Black Diaspora;
2. Create an advisory committee containing members of the Black Diaspora to provide feedback and/or vet advertising campaigns (particularly those in Canada); and
3. Engage in racial sensitivity training and/or Black history education
Your serious consideration of the above and your strategy for regaining public support rest upon the steps you now take.
Rosemary Sadlier O. Ont.
Ontario Black History Society (OBHS)
On Aug 18, 2014 8:33 AM, “Hans Davidson (Fashion)” Hans.Davidson@etonshirts.com wrote:
Dear Ms. Sadlier,
First let me also apologize to you and the members of the Ontario Black History Society for the offense created by the recent window display in our Yorkville office.
As stated in my previous letter to Mr. Pieters and in our official press release apology to the Canadian community, the display created by our Canadian team member was a very poor choice of materials and design in an attempt to show our raw material, cotton, displayed with a suitcase representing the travel-readiness of our product. It should be noted that this display was not part of any Eton corporate proposal or directive.
For this reason we have put into immediate effect a worldwide strategy whereby all company visual presentations of any kind must be created and approved by our corporate offices in Sweden.
Furthermore, based on our knowledge of our Canadian team and our interviews with them following this incident, we feel confident that our team had absolutely no malicious intent in constructing this window and in no way were trying to create a scene reminiscent of slavery or anything related to slavery.
However, the fact that the two members of our Canadian team did not immediately recognize that this display could in any way be offensive, or remind anyone of the horrible history of slavery shows us that individual training is needed to avoid an occurrence like this from ever happening again in the future.
To this end, we are initiating short and long-term training for our entire team, including those in Canada, carried out by Göteborg’s Rättigshetscenter Mot Diskriminering (Swedish Bureau Against Discrimination) who are specializing in this field. Specific emphasis will of course be placed on training related to racism and sensitivity to the Canadian and greater African Diaspora.
As an international company based in Europe, it will also be equally important to our company to have our teams trained regarding people of all ethnicities, cultures, and creeds and for this reason we have chosen a partner closer to our Swedish headquarters and with an expertise broad enough to cover these many different groups of people.
Please note that our decision to work with a European partner for this company-wide strategy should in no way reflect a lack of commitment on Eton’s part to these very important subjects, but instead our goal to train every member of our team on a subject with different knowledge requirements all over the world.
We intend to use this experience as a means to re-emphasize Eton’s commitment to respect, understanding, and appreciation for people of all backgrounds.
On Monday, August 18, 2014 the OBHS responded:
Hello Hans Davidson,
Thank you for your response.
First, you need to understand that the offensive display is offensive yes to members of the OBHS, but also to all who are committed to inclusion and diversity in Canada and worldwide as this issue has global reverberations.
Secondly, that you are going to provide training from a source close to your home office is a great start but I suspect the same attitudes which guided/supported/informed your management team could prevail. There still would seem to be no component speaking to the specific Canadian context that was affected and which has led to a lack of confidence in your brand.
Thirdly, that your Canadian team “had no malicious intent” is really not the issue. The issue is their apparent complete lack of anticipating/analyzing or general ability to understand the context of the display.
They need to be held accountable at the very least and should it still be your intention to retain them, they require much more diversity/ant-racism/Black History training to ensure no repeat.
More is necessary and required.
Ontario Black History Society (OBHS)