Hema reportedly ‘phasing out’ Zwarte Piet, critics call for boycott

Dutch high street retail group Hema is phasing out Sinterklaas’s controversial helper Zwarte Piet from gift packaging and displays, the Parool reports on Tuesday.

Although chocolate Piets and Piet wrapping paper will be available this year, this is because they have already been ordered, the Parool says, citing a company email.

The email, said to come from sales director Rob Heesen, reportedly states there will be very few Zwarte Piets on the shop’s packaging from next year. The email was sent to anti-Piet campaign group Malle Piet, the Parool said.

Hema on Tuesday afternoon 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.’

Debate

News website nu.nl reports that supermarket group Albert Heijn and the Bart Smit toy shops are also in the process of changing their portrayal of Piet but do not wish to become part of the ongoing debate.

In addition, the Bijenkorf department store will not be dropping its automated climbing Piets who decorate the central hall every year. However, Bijenkorf Piets no longer have golden earrings and some have been given straight and plaited hair, a spokesman told the Parool.

The Hema report immediately led to social media calls for a boycott of the store. ‘A people that yields to nagging immigrants will lose more than Zwarte Piet,’ wrote PVV parliamentarian Martin Bosma on Twitter.

Courts

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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