(Alliance News) - Anglo-Dutch consumer goods company Unilever PLC's South African subsidiary has set up an advisory board to review its hair care products in South Africa, as it continues to grapples with the fallout from a TRESemme advertisement widely considered racist.
This is one of the measures Unilever Southern Africa revealed at a meeting it held with Small Business Development Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni on Friday last week.
Representatives from the Small Enterprise Development Agency and the Small Enterprise Finance Agency also attended the meeting.
At the meeting, Unilever Southern Africa Chief Executive Luc-Olivier Marquet committed the company to partner with the small business development department to increase investment in small, micro and medium enterprises.
Following the TRESemme debacle, Unilever Southern Africa set out actions it has taken in the aftermath of an advertisement that is widely believed to be racist in its portrayal of black women's hair.
The ad portrayed black women's hair as "damaged, dry and frizzy" and white women's hair as "normal, fine and flat".
The advert was used in TRESemme South Africa's marketing campaign on Clicks Group Ltd's website. TRESemme is Unilever's brand.
Unilever has set up an advisory board with internal and external experts to review how its hair care products in South Africa can offer consumers the solutions they want in positive and empowering terms, Marquet said.
"Working with the new advisory board, Unilever will develop programmes to deliver immediate support to black hair stylists and small professional salons," the Unilever boss said.
"We were shocked to discover that we had supplied images for the Clicks website that portrayed Black hair as inferior," Marquet acknowledged. "This was racist and we apologise unreservedly."
"We immediately began an investigation to understand what happened," he said.
"At the same time, we began reviewing all the marketing campaigns and images in our South Africa portfolio to make sure they match our commitment to celebrate all beauty and promote diversity and inclusion," Marquet said.
In a statement issued on Wednesday by the small business development department following the meeting on Friday, it was noted that although 95% of Unilever products sold in South Africa are manufactured within the country, the bulk of the input materials for such manufacturing are imports, which significantly dilutes the benefits to South Africa in the Unilever supply value chain.
Ntshavheni urged strong participation by Unilever in the localization programme of South Africa.
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 small businesses, in particular black, women and youth-owned and those owned by persons with disability to participate meaningfully in this manufacturing.
In addition to local manufacturing of input materials, these commitments include increased SMME access to Unilever's third-party manufacturing, logistics platforms and SMME products route to market assistance.
Ntshavheni pointed out Unilever's ZAR80 million Enterprise Development Fund was not sufficient for SMME development, but accepted that if commitments on value chain participation made by Unilever are fulfilled, it will improve this contribution.
Unilever shares were up 1.7% in London on Wednesday at 4,816.00 pence; the stock is up 11% so far in 2020. Clicks Group shares were up 0.4% in Johannesburg at ZAR228.11 on the day but down 11% in the year so far.
By Artwell Dlamini; firstname.lastname@example.org
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