|Lola Odusoga||Dan O'Brien||Dionne Pounds||Raymond Ebanks|
Famous 'Black Finns' have lent their weight to a campaign to ban racist images on the packets of popular Finnish sweets. A former Miss Finland, Olympic gold medallist, top US basketball player and international pop star have joined Euro MP Claude Moraes who has urged Finland's powerful consumer watchdog to hurry up and outlaw the offensive pictures. Finland took over the Presidency of the European Union on July 1 and Moraes wrote a letter to the country's leadership to coincide with this.
At the centre of the row are two of Scandinavia's biggest food firms.Claude Moraes MEP says in a letter that urgent action is needed in order to protect Finland's good name in race relations. Nothing has been done since an official complaint was lodged with the Consumer Ombudsman in February. The watchdog has told The-Latest that it could take up to 21 months to resolve the issue.
The first Black Miss Finland Lola Odusoga, Dan O'Brien, the 1996 Olympic decathlon champion, basketball player Dionne Pounds and lead singer of Bomfunk Mcs Raymond Ebanks - all of whom have a Finnish mother and Black father - have expressed their opposition to the racist images.
But the defiant chief of one of the sweet companies at the centre of an international row about the offensive stereotyping of Black people on the packaging of one of his most popular products has told The-Latest he has no intention of removing the racist image. Fazer managing director Jesper Aberg, said: "I feel that we have been wrongfully accused. Perhaps there is something about how other cultures perceive these images that we fail to understand. We are not racist."
And the boss of Brunberg, another controversial Finnish confectionery firm that was recently forced to remove the words 'Nigger's Kiss" from one of its brands, is still refusing to withdraw an outdated colonial image of two Black caricatures on its sweets. Managing director Tom Brunberg claimed that 90 per cent of the 500 people he surveyed said the images were not racist. Brunberg said: "I am astonished to have this put against us after all these years and we will not stop using these images because we don't feel that they are racist in any way." Astonishly, he added: "You may think that the images are black, but of course they could be white people painted black." (See picture below).
But the two besieged companies, who are Scandinavia's biggest sweet manufacturers, were dealt a major public relations blow by new findings that show that, contrary to what they have been boasting about public opinion being on their side, many Finns actually oppose the racist images of Black people that they use on their products. This follows a decade-long campaign inside and outside Finland against the 'Sambo' cartoon-style picture shown on Fazer liquorice and Brunberg's 'nigger's kiss' sweet packets. Both companies have stubbornly refused to remove the controversial logos. Yet, more than 70 per cent of contributors to a lively debate on the issue carried by the popular blog Finland for Thought opposed the continued use of the pictures. Twenty nine per cent were in support. This explodes the myth, put about by Fazer, Brunberg and their apologists, that the Finnish public either backs them or could not care less.
Politicians in Finland and the European Parliament have joined The-Latest.campaign to remove the offensive images. They include British Euro MP Claude Moraes, a Labour London MEP, who has tabled a question to the European Commission about the two famous Finnish confectionery firms that have been reported to an industry standards body for using the racially stereotypical pictures. He said: "This is not about being politically correct. Images are potent symbols which reflect power relations between different people in society. These images are from a colonial past when Black people were slaves and white people thought it was alright to depict them as wide-eyed, feckless, grinning, powerless individuals."
Finland's Ombudsman for Minorities, Mikko Puumalainen, has criticised the companies for offending Black people. And he has agreed to refer the case to the Consumer Agency, after getting negative responses from Fazer and Brunberg during his investigation of a complaint from Black Finn Marc Wadsworth, editor of The-Latest. Wadsworth questioned the message the racist 'Sambo' iimage (pictured below right) sent out about Black people to impressionable Finnish youngsters.
Fazer sweets are sold in shops around the world, including Britain. Wadsworth said: "To my eye, the Sambo image either creates, or at the very least perpetuates, a negative stereotype held in society that Black people are in some way "primitive" compared to white ethnic Finns. The same point also applies to the designs used by Brunberg's kisses (Brunbergin suukot), which were called Neekerin pusut (Nigger's kisses) until a few years ago, and also Peliko's Black Pekka children's playing cards."
Wadsworth, founder of the British Anti-Racist Alliance, added: "The image of a Black face, mouth agape, bright red lips and bushy hair, is certainly not flattering and has long been deemed unacceptable in the US, UK and Sweden." The campaign to remove the offending images from sweet packets has won support from high-profile Black people in Finland like U.S. basketball star Larry Pounds who said such marketing would not be allowed in America. Chart-topping Black Finn Raymond Ebanks, of Bomfunk MCs, has also condemned the products. Popular Green MEP Heidi Hautala, Finland's former environment minister, backs the campaign. A spokesman for Puumalainen said, in an email to Mr Wadsworth, that the Ombudsman thought 'the format of the wrapping papers can be considered as doubtful in relation to ethnic equality and that the format of the wrapping papers may offend black people.'
According to the Ombudsman 'the long time use of a certain wrapping paper does not as such make the usage acceptable. Neither does the wish to continue a tradition by using a certain kind of wrapping make the usage of the wrapping in question acceptable in these cases.'
The Ombusman added: "Companies should also promote good ethnic relations in society and the usage of these kinds of wrapping papers does not do that."
Wadsworth has campaigned against the offensive imagery for many years and stirred major media and public controversy in Finland as a result. He said: 'These images are racist, outdated and an affront to the progressive, englightened culture which makes my mother proud rather than ashamed to be Finnish."
Cloetta Fazer, created in a merger between the Swedish company Cloetta and Finnish firm Fazer, is the Nordic region's largest chocolate and sugar confectionery company. In its literature the firm boldly claims: "Cloetta Fazer's mission is to create fun and enjoyment. Everyone, regardless of age and preference, can enjoy the company's wide range of chocolate and sugar confectionery products."
But they clearly don't care about the feelings of Black consumers. Riitta Mannio, from Cloetta Fazer's marketing department, was defiant when she said: "Fazer has no plans to change the pack design of their liquorice in the near future." According to her: "People are used to this style of packaging in Finland; it helps to make the brand recognisable." Mannio admitted that Fazer had received complaints about the image used on its liquorice packaging in the past, but claimed "they have been rare."
Firms accused of using dubious stereotypes to sell their products often pretend that their branding merely reflect existing attitudes and values within the society. Logically, firms want to avoid using images in their marketing that are out of step with society's values because of fear of damaging profits.
A spokewoman for the Consumer Agency, which has yet to make a decision, warned that the matter was too important to be left to Cloetta Fazer and Brunberg themselves. The Finnish Ministry of Education recently carried out research to assess the extent to which racist attitudes prevailed in schools in Finland. The results were worrying. A third of the 15-29 year-olds interviewed said that they were against any further immigration. Yet Finland has one of the lowest migrant populations of any country in the European Union whose presidency the country takes over in July.
Wadsworth also complained to the Ombudsman about off the cuff racist remarks made by senior Finnish government minister Antti Kalliomaki. Former Olympic pole vaulter Kalliomaki referred to 'mambo sambo' and 'mumbo jumbo' in a parliamentary speech. The Ombudsman won an assurance from Kalliomaki that he would not use the offensive terms again. Finland prides itself on giving generous support to developing countries like Tanzania, Namibia and South Africa.
Finnish companies, like those in other countries, have a financial responsibility towards their shareholders to deliver high profits and fat dividends. However, they also have social responsibilities to live up to. In this case, a need not to use images in advertisements and on products that encourage the negative stereotyping of racial minorities within society like Black people.
* See attached excellent research document on Racism in Finland by academic Milla Hyttinen, of Tampere University. You need to be logged in as a member to read this.