Albert Heijn to reduce role of Zwarte Piet in Sinterklaas celebrations

The Albert Heijn supermarket chain is reducing the role of Zwarte Piet in its stores in the run up to the Sinterklaas celebrations on December 5,  Dutch media said on Thursday.

Zwarte Piet, played by white people in blackface make-up, will not be used in advertising either in the media or in the stores themselves.

‘We have customers from all walks of life and are taking every sentiment into account,’ a spokesman told broadcaster Nos. ‘Sinterklaas is a fun celebration for everyone and we are taking that into account.’


The spokesman would not comment on reports that Sinterklaas, or St Nicholas, will be accompanied by Dutch children in black wigs.

The stores will still carry chocolate featuring Zwarte Piet, Piet outfits and make-up from mid November.

There were calls for a boycott of Dutch high street retail group Hema in August following reports it was to phase out Sinterklaas’s controversial helper from gift packaging and displays.

Hema later issued a statement saying it is not getting rid of Piet. ‘There are still Piets in our collection. We are following the general discussion and we respect the guidelines that flow from it,’ the company said in the online statement. ‘Everything has already been bought for December 5 and we cannot say anything about next year.’


The Council of State is currently considering the future of Zwarte Piet, ruled a negative stereotype by a lower court earlier this year. That court ordered Amsterdam mayor Eberhard van der Laan to reconsider his approval for the annual Sinterklaas parade ahead of the December 5 celebrations.

Earlier this year, the Dutch folk heritage centre suggested Zwarte Piet should remain black but that his curly hair, thick red lips and golden earnings could go.

The centre has been holding talks with other interest groups about how to change the parts of the Piet costume which are considered by some to be offensive.

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