Kinita Shenoy, editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine’s Sri Lanka edition, who worked from 2017 to 2018, revealed how Unilever’s pressure campaign to promote skin lightening products made her quit journalism altogether.
In an interaction with BuzzFeed News, Shenoy said that in she received a package containing skin lightening creams made by Pond’s, a cosmetics brand owned by Unilever. She ignored the first package and informed the marketers at Unilever that she wouldn’t promote skin lighteners.
However, she received a second package, which left her confused. The Unilever staff asked her to post about the products on social media.
Shenoy conveyed this to her staff who thanked Pond’s for the package. However, she shared a completely different story on her personal account.
“I appreciate the lovely packaging but I’m not really on board with the concept of ‘White Beauty, aren’t we past the point where we tell wonderful, melanin-popping Asian women they need to make their skin look whiter?” wrote Shenoy blurring out Pond's brand name.
It was much later that she figured Unilever representatives pressured her employer to either fire her or “publish two pages in the magazine every six months describing how she used Pond’s skin whitening creams and encouraging other women to use them as well.”
They further threatened that if things don’t go accordingly, Unilever would pull out all advertisements from the magazine. Shenoy stood firm, and the publication lost its high profile brand.
After fighting with her publisher for weeks, Shenoy shared her experience with Aritha Wickramasinghe, a lawyer specializing in international finance and LGBTQ rights. On Shenoy’s behalf, Aritha wrote an email to Unilever CEO Paul Polman citing the incident.
Paul later replied stating that he was unaware of the same and would look into it. After his intervention, the company resumed buying ad space in the magazine.
And despite all of it ending in Shenoy’s favour, she maintained her decision to leave her job as “her relationship with her bosses had permanently soured.”
Earlier this month, Hindustan Unilever's flagship skin care brand Fair & Lovely changed its name to Glow & Lovely, owing to the Black Lives Matter protests.