Unilever will rename Fair & Lovely, a skin-lightening cream which has been criticised for promoting negative stereotypes around dark skin tones
It will also remove references to “whitening” or “lightening” on the products, which are sold across Asia.
Unilever acknowledged the branding suggests “a singular ideal of beauty”.
Two separate petitions urging Unilever to stop the production of its Fair & Lovely range have been signed by more than 18,000 people in recent weeks.
“This product has built upon, perpetuated and benefited from internalised racism and promotes anti-blackness sentiments,” one says.
A second petition claimed the cream “tells us that there is something wrong with our color, that we have to be light in order to feel beautiful. In order to feel worthy.”
Sunny Jain, President of Beauty & Personal Care at Unilever, said: “We are fully committed to having a global portfolio of skin care brands that is inclusive and cares for all skin tones, celebrating greater diversity of beauty.
“We recognise that the use of the words ‘fair’, ‘white’ and ‘light’ suggest a singular ideal of beauty that we don’t think is right, and we want to address this.”
“The brand has never been and is not a bleaching product,” Unilever added.
The consumer goods giant also said that it had removed before-and-after impressions and “shade guides” on Fair & Lovely packaging in 2019. The skin care range is sold across countries such as India, Indonesia, Thailand and Pakistan.
Unilever’s move comes as cosmetics firms around the world reassess their product lines and marketing strategies in light of the Black Lives Matters movement, sparked by George Floyd’s death.
George Floyd died in Minneapolis in May as a white police officer held a knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
The final moments were filmed on phones. Four police officers involved have been sacked and charged over his death.
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Writer and activist Poorna Bell said that Unilever’s announcement was “hugely disappointing”.
“It doesn’t do enough to make reparations for the untold mental and emotional damage done by colourism,” a prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, often among people of the same ethnic group.
“Renaming the products doesn’t mean anything – that’s still just colourism by another word,” she said.
She also called for Unilever to match Johnson & Johnson’s recent commitment to stop selling certain products that are advertised as dark-spot reducers in Asia and the Middle East, but have been used by consumers to lighten skin tone.