Sweden’s Equality Ombudsman is reviewing complaints brought against Hennes & Mauritz AB, alleging that the clothes retailer discriminates against ethnic minority customers.
The probe was launched after local media used hidden camera footage to show that H&M appeared to be treating customers differently when they tried to return items, depending on their ethnicity.
According to a report in Aftonbladet, about 10 former and current employees at H&M stores in Sweden said they were aware of instances in which ethnic customers were put at a disadvantage when they tried to exchange goods. People with immigrant backgrounds are generally treated worse than ethnic Swedes in H&M stores, the newspaper said, citing an employee it didn’t identify by name.
In an emailed statement on Wednesday, H&M said, “We have received information on this matter” from the ombudsman, “and will respond to it in accordance with their request for an opinion.” The company has been given until Dec. 22 to reply.
In its statement, Sweden’s ombudsman said it was basing its probe on “media information that claims the company treats people with an ethnic affiliation other than Swedish differently, putting them at a disadvantage.” Examples include demanding that ethnic customers provide more documentation than is required under the company’s policy, when exchanging goods.
“The purpose of the supervision is to clarify whether there has been a violation of the prohibition of discrimination,” the ombudsman said.
It’s not the first time H&M has been accused of racial discrimination. In August, the retailer suspended several employees after a hat sold at its stores was given an internal product name that contained a racist slur. H&M said via email last week that the company has since taken “appropriate legal action.”
By Anton Wilen.