H&M Employees Speak Out Against Controversial ‘Coolest Monkey’ Ad

The backlash from H&M’s controversial “Coolest Monkey In The Jungle” ad seems to be growing with time. While both the company and the parents of the young model have spoken out, outraged citizens from across the world aren’t ready to let bygones be bygones.

READ: Family Of Boy Who Modeled Controversial H&M Hoodie Publicly Speaks Out

Celebrities and activists like Jesse Williams also condemned the ad — and artists that have worked with H&M, The Weeknd and G-Eazy, have cut their ties with them.

READ: H&M In South Africa Left In Ruins Following Protest

After hearing reports of innocent H&M employees being harassed and attacked for simply working at the store after the ad was released, we reached out to 3 current staffers for their personal opinions on the controversy. We chose to keep their names anonymous to protect their identities.

“Jane” (20)

VIBE: Did it feel awkward coming in to work after the ad was released?
“Jane”: I didn’t really think much about it. Then I saw the reaction from everyone on social media, and I thought “Oh here we go again. Everyone is so sensitive now.”

A video circulated on social media that showed H&M employees being harassed. Have you experienced anything like that since the controversy?
Nope. I don’t really care what people think of the ad really.

Have you talked about the controversial ad with your coworkers?
No, I have not. I think it’s because the ad did not have much of an impact in foreign countries as it did in America.

The mother of the boy recently spoke out and she thinks the public is making a big deal out of nothing. If you were in her shoes, what would you do? Do you think the public is being too sensitive?
I think that people are overreacting and being too sensitive. One of the staff talked about it and partially agrees with the public reaction.

To me, I strongly think it was just a communication breakdown. The idea of the hoodie was just for kids in general — regardless of their ethnicity. It’s common to associate kids with monkeys as they tend to behave like one when it’s playtime and such — and monkeys belong in the jungle. That’s about it. Nothing more to it. Though I work for the company, there are also many things that I do not agree with which I will not elaborate as they are pretty minor. However, I think it’s just been blown out of proportion and the huge attention should be towards the sweatshops running under H&M where people are actually suffering.

Have there been talks among your coworkers?
A little bit. I think that people are overreacting and being too sensitive. One of the staff that talked about it partially agrees with the public reaction. Personally, I believe that a multi million dollar company would never have such intentions and let it jeopardize their own business.

What do you think H&M should do to prevent this from happening again?
There’s not much to do except for maybe having all their ads approved by a larger number of people before releasing it to gain more perspectives.

“Lisa” (20)

VIBE: Did it feel awkward coming in to work today?
“Lisa”: When I first saw the ad, I was a little shocked. H&M is a very diverse company and when I was hired, they stressed the importance of accepting everyone. So I assumed it had to have been unintentional, and I didn’t expect it to be as big as it is now. Due to what has been happening around the country, I get why there is a hypersensitive aura to this situation. But I think the apology issued from H&M acknowledged their mistake with empathy, even though it was unintentional.

A video circulated on social media that showed H&M employees being harassed. Have you experienced anything like that since the controversy?
Honestly, it did feel a little awkward. Now H&M has a negative connotation to their name, and I work for the company. So yeah… of course it’s awkward.

The mother recently came out on Facebook and she thinks the public is making a big deal out of nothing. If you were in her shoes, what would you do? Do you think the public is being too sensitive?
I don’t necessarily think the public is being “too sensitive.” I do think that the public is hypersensitive for good reason. With all the shootings and violent acts of discrimination with no justice, anything will set the public off. Especially at the beginning of the year when everyone is more optimistic for the future and then something that was a problem in the past comes back up. It makes people feel like there is no hope for things to get better. I, as a black woman, was offended by the ad. However, how the situation was handled on H&Ms side was all they could do. They removed the garment and promotion of the item instead of JUST issuing an apology.

Customers mostly just ask me how I feel about it. I feel like employees have nothing to do with what the marketing department of H&M has done. We clean up after people all day, make sure the customers are satisfied, and go home. It’s unacceptable that we can’t wear our name badges outside of the store in fear of verbal/physical harassment. We are all just trying to pay our bills like everyone else.

Have there been talks among your coworkers? What do they seem to think?
We do talk about our opinion on the situation and we all seem to agree that yes, it was a fatal mistake. But the response from the public is a little too much. It would be different if H&M didn’t apologize or if the apology was half-ass but they took full responsibility. And if people did their research, they would know that H&M is a very diverse brand as a whole.

What do you think H&M should do to prevent this from happening again?
I feel that H&M should hire people to double check their work and reevaluate who they already have on their marketing team.

“Beth” (21)

VIBE: When you first saw the ad what was the first thing that came to your mind?
“Beth”: When I first heard about it, I was on the register and my other employee who is also black said, “Did you see this s—?” and at first I thought it was a meme or something and then I looked inside the H&M insider (a personal H&M Facebook where employees can see what people are doing at other stores) and I realized it really happened. I was in shock.

Did it feel awkward coming in to work today?
I didn’t feel awkward coming to work, but all the employees thought the managers weren’t going to address it but they did at our morning meeting. They were letting everyone express their opinions, and how they felt and shared how they highly empathize with us and are very regretful. They said it was stupid and shouldn’t happen again. They said they were there for us and corporate wrote us a letter about how they were sorry and how it won’t happen again.

A video circulated on social media that showed H&M employees being harassed. Have you experienced anything like that since the controversy?
I’ve been working here since November (2017) and nobody has come into the store and tried to harass us… maybe because we have security. We have 300+ plus employees but news travel fast so if something did happen, I would know.

Have there been talks among your coworkers? What do they seem to think?
Some employees said it wasn’t that serious. One employee who is a mother and has kids calls her kids a monkey all the time but to her it’s not serious. If it’s not going to matter in your life, it shouldn’t matter now. Other employees were mad aggravated and didn’t want to be in that environment and didn’t feel comfortable anymore.

The mother recently spoke out and says she thinks the public is making a big deal out of nothing. If you were in her shoes, what would you do? Do you think the public is being too sensitive?
If I was the mother, I’m not going to approve of my son being in the hoodie from the beginning… I would say change that sh*t and that’s it or put it on that little white boy. I would address the situation and let the black community know that I understand why people are offended and are speaking out… but the mother isn’t American. I don’t think she fully understood the history behind it.

What do you think H&M should do to prevent this from happening again?
I personally don’t see anything wrong with it as a black person, maybe that’s because I understand H&M is a Swedish-based company so they honestly probably just didn’t know they would receive the amount of backlash they did. I just think more needs to be done within the marketing teams so these mistakes don’t happen again. They need more people of color to say ‘no don’t do this, this is a bad look.’ If they knew they were going to have all these celebrities backing out and not trying to work with them anymore, they wouldn’t have done it.

Sometimes in the black community we’re afraid to speak up because we’re afraid of the backlash and what people will say or what money we’ll lose out on. The whole Dove commercial just happened and it’s like, H&M should’ve thought, “We just seen this. Let’s not be naïve.”

Have there been any employees who have recently quit?
No employees have recently quit because of the incident. Not one.