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Dutch online store bans 'Black Pete' merchandise as 'hurtful'

AMSTERDAM, Aug 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Dutch online retailer Bol.com has become the latest firm to ban products depicting “Black Pete”, a caricatured figure from pre-Christmas celebrations, in response to anti-racism campaigns.

All products depicting “Black Pete” in a discriminatory way must be removed from the platform by the end of September, Bol.com, one of the biggest book, toy and electronics retailers in the Netherlands, said in a statement.

“Following recently received feedback and insights we have concluded that ‘Black Piet’ can be seen as hurtful,” the company said, adding that it had asked the Dutch ministry of justice and the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights for advice.

“Bol.com is a shop for everyone. That means that everyone has to be able to have access to us and feel welcome. Feeling welcome doesn’t match with products that incite discrimination or hate.”

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in June that many children felt the tradition - where St. Nicholas brings gifts to kids accompanied by numerous “Petes”, clownish servants usually portrayed by white people in blackface - was discriminatory.

Bol.com’s decision comes weeks after Facebook and Instagram banned blackface, which originated in 1830s New York shows, when slavery was still legal in the U.S. South, with white performers blackening their faces to make fun of slaves as lazy and stupid.

Black Pete supporters argue that he is not meant to portray black skin colour, but chimney soot, or a fantasy figure.

“The Netherlands is getting better!” Jerry Afriyie, a Dutch-based human rights activist who has campaigned against Black Pete, said on Twitter, adding that he hoped more companies would follow suit.

Following anti-racism protests in the Netherlands, the Dutch central bank and ABN Amro bank are investigating their roles in the slave trade. The Dutch West India Company operated ships that traded some 500,000 slaves in the 17th and 18th centuries.

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