Last Friday, April 17, the Delhi edition of The Hindu ran a full-page advertisement for Kalyan Jewellers featuring brand ambassador, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. The bejewelled actress is seen reclining while a ‘dark skinned slave-child’ is protecting her from the sun by holding a large umbrella over her head.
Finding the ad ‘insidiously racist’, a group of people that included a writer and feminist activist, the CEO of Oxfam India, and others involved in protecting child rights, wrote an open letter to Aishwarya demanding her to dissociate herself from this regressive advertisement that went against child rights. The visual (shown in header image) has been inspired by 17th century European paintings of noblewomen with their child servants (an era that flaunted its child-slaves).
The open letter was published in Scroll yesterday with a similar letter also sent to Kalyan Jewellers. The jewellery chain was busy in the inauguration ceremony of its new showroom in Chennai by Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Amitabh Bachchan. It invited Chennaites to visit the showroom with a promise of selfies with two of the country’s most popular actors.
Meanwhile, social media was abuzz with outrage over the racist ad promoting child slavery. Other media publications and listicle sites like Buzzfeed also joined in and carried the story far and wide. “Kalyan Jewellers” has started trending on Twitter since this morning.
Black kid holdin umbrella to d great Aishwarya Rai.Kalyan Jewellers has lost this one completly by promoting slavery! pic.twitter.com/7Gu1GSTC53
— Prashanth (@itisprashanth) April 22, 2015
— Dharini Parthasaraty (@dharinipart) April 22, 2015
Kalyan Jewellers finally gave in to save face. It stated that the process to withdraw the said creative from its campaign has been started. It also issued an apology, in case anybody was hurt by this ad. Here is the statement from Kalyan Jewellers :
“The creative was intended to present the royalty, timeless beauty and elegance. However, if we have inadvertently hurt the sentiments of any individual or organisation, we deeply regret the same. We have started the process of withdrawing this creative from our campaign”.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s publicist has also issued an explanation that refuses to take blame for the act. It stated that the ‘final layout of the ad is entirely the prerogative of the creative team for a brand’ and that the viewpoints stated in the open letter will be taken into consideration by the creative team handling the brand visuals. Which means she has chosen to blame the ad creators.
If I have hurt you, I am sorry!
The concern that has been highlighted in the open letter is about the ad promoting child slavery and nobody, absolutely, nobody from the two accused parties (Kalyan Jewellers and Aishwarya) seem to be disturbed by this grave error on their part. Both their statements reek of vindication, none are bothered of having committed a mistake which could have serious implications on society.
This too at a time when child rights activists are waging a global war against the regressive practice of child labour, rampant in India as well as Europe and other parts of the world. Restoring ‘Child Rights’ is such a grave concern that the Nobel Peace prize this year went to Kailash Satyarthi, the founder of Bachpan Bachao Andolan, an incessant child rights advocate and activist against child labour. Aishwarya is a global icon and a brand ambassador for many social causes herself. For any brand that she endorses, it becomes doubly necessary to check their advertisements to not violate anybody’s sentiments, and not promote child labour in any way.
An apology cannot come with conditions. A brand needs to acknowledge its mistake in all humility and apologise without attaching any kind of justification to the error. Kalyan Jewellers has nullified its apology by the conditional statement, “if we have inadvertently hurt”.
Additionally, the statement is unsigned. There is no authoritative face to the brand taking the blame. An unsigned, unapologetic apology doesn’t qualify as good handling of online reputation. First, it comes up with a regressive ad and then chooses to avoid the issue of having promoted ‘child slavery’ altogether. Kalyan Jewellers needs to hire a new agency to handle its advertising as well as online reputation.
Image credit: Scroll