Racist sweet wrapper image finally finished off

Deborah Hobson - EXCLUSIVE

Anti-racists toasted the end of an era this week with the removal of a Black 'Sambo' image on an infamous Finnish sweet wrapper.

The manufacturer Cloetta Fazer, the largest in northern Europe, stubbornly refused to remove the offensive logo despite a decade-long campaign led by Black Finn Marc Wadsworth, the founder of the Anti-Racist Alliance (ARA) and Editor of The-Latest.

The company announced the new design of the wrapper of its liquorice sticks, which will appear on store shelves next month. Fazer says that the aim of the new look is to maintain a humorous retro-style. The product itself will not change, but the wrapper will no longer have the long-standing caricature of a big-lipped, woolly-haired, wide-eyed, grinning Black person, which has been a basic theme on Fazers' liquorice packaging since 1927.

The figure had long been criticised as perpetuating a negative racial stereotype, even by official watchdogs in Finland, but it remained popular among the predominantly white public in the Scandinavian country.

Reactions to the packaging went beyond Finland in the mid-1990s, when the British ARA drew attention to the figure. Last year British MEP Claude Moraes criticised the figure, and put embarrassing questions to the European Commission, and the Council of Ministers on the correctness of the liquorice packaging, during Finland's Presidency of the European Union.

In January 2007 the manufacturer was forced to announced that the offending figure would be removed from the wrapper. Reacting to the objections, an internet petition was launched in Finland to defend the Laku-Pekka character, as it was popularly called.

Before changing the packaging, Fazer was reported to Finland's Consumer Agency and the Ombudsman for Minorities by Wadsworth. Both said that the racial presentation could be seen as violating the marketing rules of the consumer protection law, international regulations on advertising, and equality legislation.

In the end, the manufacturers backed down because they feared an international boycott of all their products by anti-racists. Wadsworth said: "It is disgusting that a multinational company could get away with such blatant racism for so long, but gratifying that people power, including the weight lent to the campaign by The-Latest, forced them to back down in the end."

Fazer's liquorice is not the only product of the Finnish sweets industry that has altered its marketing for reasons of racial sensitivity. In 2001 Brunberg changed its traditional creme-filled chocolate sweet formerly called Neekerinsuukko ("Negro Kiss") to simply "Suukko" ("Kiss").