The Indian unit of the top consumer giant Unilever announced on Thursday it would rebrand its skin-lightening cream 'Fair and Lovely', which has received considerable backlash for perpetuating negative stereotypes related to darker skin tones.
Hindustan Unilever said it would drop the word 'Fair' from the product and added that a fresh name for the cream was awaiting regulatory clearances.
“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," Sunny Jain, President Beauty & Personal Care, said in a statement released on the company's website. It added given that the company is evolving, it’s important for them to "change the language".
Unilever's announcement came as rival Johnson & Johnson said this month that it would stop the sale of skin-whitening creams.
News agency Reuters earlier reported that Unilever had been mulling this move as backlash against such products mounted on social media.
"The branding exercise will require a massive change and we're working on this," the source said. "Words like 'skin detox', 'skin rejuvenation,' and 'skin vitality' are being considered instead of 'skin-lightening'", a Unilever source in South Asia was quoted as saying.
Unilever's 'Fair & Lovely' brand carries significant weight in the market in South Asia. As Black Lives Matter protests gained steam in recent days, several companies have been slammed for marketing products promoting colourism.
Appeals to stop marketing Fair & Lovely have been around for years, but the movement received a shot in the arm recently. This month, over half a dozen petitions on Change.Org received scores of signatures, aimed at Unilever and its Indian unit Hindustan Unilever.
Unilever owns a 67% stake in Hindustan Unilever, its India unit. The companies also sell the popular Dove and Knorr range of products.
In India, fairness products have long been endorsed by leading Bollywood celebrities, as well as other popular youth icons. Advertisements have regularly featured two faces showing skin tone transformation, as well as shade guides to show "improvement".
Hindustan Unilever said it had moved from that line of advertising in 2019, and "will continue to evolve its advertising to feature women of different skin tones, representative of the variety of beauty across India."
The brand name change is subject to regulatory approvals, the company said in a filing to the exchanges. It did not specify what the new name would be.
A source in the parent company told Reuters that alternatives like "Dare & Lovely, "Care & Lovely," or "Fresh & Lovely" were being considered, but products with the old brand name will not be recalled.
"A recall is done when the product has a problem, please bear in mind the quality is not under the scanner, the name is," the source said.
This month activists started petitions on Change.Org, drawing thousands of signatures, including one by Nina Davuluri, who in 2014 became the first Indian American to be crowned Miss America.
Separately, a source at L'Oréal in India said the French cosmetics company was also having discussions in view of the backlash.
"Words such as skin brightening, whitening, lightening could soon become a thing of the past on all labels and product sales pitches," the source said.
L'Oréal India declined to comment. L'Oréal in France did not respond to an e-mail seeking immediate comment.
(With inputs from Reuters)