Hema says "goodbye" to Zwarte Piet; Bijenkorf making changes

Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet (Source: Wikimedia/Jan Arkesteijn)
. Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet (Source: Wikimedia/Jan Arkesteijn)

[update, 4:30 p.m., 26 August 2014] An adjustment was made to the headline of this article, as De Bijenkorf is not eliminating Zwarte Piet, but making changes to the character's appearance. Quotes from a Bijenkorf spokesperson were added to the story.

Under the influence of the Zwarte Piet discussion, Hema has adjusted the packaging of store items featuring Sinterklaas so that there is virtually no sign of Zwarte Piet.

This year there will still be chocolate figures of Zwarte Piet found at Hema, as the purchasing for this year has already been done, but this will probably not be the case for next year, Het Parool reports based on an internal letter.

The Bijenkorf says that in the future Zwarte Piet will be changed to match whatever is fashionable in the coming season. "It's not all about the [Zwarte Piet] discussion," said Suzanne van de Velde, a public relations manager at the department store. "It's all about styling and trends, and what's in the store."

Both department stores say that they have been following the discussion closely, and have quietly been making changes so as not to offend any of their customers.

Van de Velde did say that at the Bijenkorf, Zwarte Piet has not had gold earrings for years and they have had helpers with different hairstyles. These changes were done even before the started, but only because of changing public tastes.

When asked if De Bijenkorf would make adjustments based on societal demands, Van de Velde said "We will look at it and adapt where necessary. They will still have skin colour that is brown this year."

De Bijenkorf's decision is is inline with recommendations by the Netherlands Center for Popular Culture and Cultural Heritage, she said.

The country's Council of State is hoping for a quick court ruling over Zwarte Piet on December 5th. The City of Amsterdam and The Pieten Guild have against the judgement of an Amsterdam Court in July in which it was stated that Sinterklaas's helper is a negative stereotype.

Additional reporting by Zack Newmark

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