Marketing

Woolies comes under fire for “racist” singlets it claims it never ordered

Eloise Keating /

Woolworths has been forced to pull a men’s singlet from two of its stores after individuals took to social media to label the items “vile” and “racist”.

Mirroring the Australian-themed shirts pulled by Aldi earlier this year, the supermarket giant has acted swiftly to pull the navy blue singlets, which feature an Australian flag and the words: “If you don’t love it, leave”.

The singlets were stocked in two Woolworths stores – one in Sydney and one in Cairns – and were brought to the supermarket’s attention when Greens MP Adam Bandt labelled the items “divisive and ridiculous” on Facebook on Monday.  

A photo of the singlets had originally been shared on Twitter by a Cairns shopper, George Craig, who labelled the tops “racist” and Bandt called for his supporters to campaign for Woolworths to remove the items.

Woolworths addressed the singlets in a Facebook post on Monday night, saying it withdrew the “totally unacceptable” singlets as soon as it was made aware of them but claimed it never the ordered the products in the first place.

“This singlet was not one we ordered – it was delivered to us in error and should never been allowed on our shelves,” said Woolworths.

“We’re going to review our processes to ensure this sort of error cannot happen again.”

Woolworths said the words on the singlet do not reflect the company’s views.

“Woolworths has a policy of ‘Doing the Right Thing’ which means we believe in fostering an environment where everyone is treated with dignity, courtesy and respect,” the company said.

Michelle Gamble from Marketing Angels told SmartCompany the singlets are likely to divide consumers into two camps.

“The saddest thing is Woolworths has chosen to stock a product like this because of the likelihood that there is a lot of people who would buy it,” Gamble says.

“But then there are people in the other camp who think those attitudes are wrong and will aggressively voice their opinion about why they think it is wrong.”

While Gamble says it is unlikely the incident will have a long-term effect on Woolworths, which is such a “massive brand”, or stop most people from shopping at Woolworths supermarkets, she says stocking the products was still “incredibly irresponsible of them”.

“We see this with a lot of clothing brands, including Zara and Topshop, developing products off the back of what’s happening in society and around the world … fashion is absolutely influenced by what is happening socially,” says Gamble.

“But it is very, very risky to create products off the back of controversy.”

Gamble says it’s not just clothing brands attempting to “news jack” by creating products or promotions to tie in with current events, pointing out the example of companies attempting to take advantage of the Malaysia Airlines disaster.

“But consumers see through that pretty quickly,” she says.

“You are opening yourself up to criticism and with social media, it will blow wide open … media will jump on it, consumers will jump on it, and rightly so.”

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Eloise Keating

Eloise Keating is the editor of SmartCompany. Previously, Eloise was news editor at Books+Publishing, the trade press for the Australian book industry.

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