Over 10,000 people have signed a petition calling on a historically Quaker-owned company to end its sexist signs promoting boys and girls shoes.
C&J Clark International Ltd, known as Clarks, has faced widespread criticism from shoppers who object to the slogans in its stores that say “Because boys test their shoes to destruction, so do we” in big blue lettering and “Because girls love comfort and style, we design both into our shoes” in big pink lettering.
The Clarks company is facing opposition in the form of a petition about the perceived sexism on change.org. The petition calls on Melissa Potter, the chief executive of Clarks, to remove all sexist signage from their shops “so that our children can be who they want to be”. Quakers James and Cyrus Clark founded the company in 1825 and today Clarks is one of the few companies that retains strong Quaker connections. Most other major Quaker family owned businesses, such as Cadbury’s and Rowntree’s, have lost all or most of their Quaker identity through corporate ownership and takeovers
Among those who had signed the petition, a mother from Exeter wrote on change.org that she had signed it “because I do not want my daughter to be hemmed in by social-cultural boundaries that dictate how she should behave as a girl, and later as a woman.” Another woman from Birmingham wrote that she had signed: “because this is 2014 and I thought Clarks would be more enlightened than this lazy sexist advertising.” The subject is being discussed on Twitter with the hashtag #letshoesbeshoes.
But fans of Clarks have come to their defence on Facebook. One woman posted on Clarks’ Facebook wall that “There is nothing wrong with your advertising. For heaven’s sake, people in this country are going mad. Girls and boys are different.”
While there is no creed in the Quaker faith, many British Quakers draw inspiration from their book, Quaker Faith & Practice, which includes a section on social responsibility. A 1986 passage from Pauline Leader is included in this section. She wrote: “we are all equal in our shared humanity. Sexism does violence to this important insight, as it does to individuals of either sex who are seeking to find themselves and express themselves in the world.”
Meanwhile, a general welcome to visitors to the Clarks’ website from Melissa Potter states: “Responsible business is good business, and vice versa. And that’s why behaving responsibly is important to us. It also comes as second nature, compelled by enduring values shaped by the Clarks family ethos – an inherent willingness to do the right thing for consumers, shareholders, employees and the community alike.”
Now customers and Quakers will be waiting to see how Clarks responds to the accusations.