AP - CHICAGO - Sears, Roebuck and Co. terminated its
contract with the trendy Benetton clothing company Wednesday under pressure
from victims' rights groups who objected to the Italian company's ad campaign
featuring death row inmates.
Sears chairman and chief executive Arthur C. Martinez was ''outraged,'' as
were many customers, at ads showing photographs of the inmates, said company
spokesman Tom Nicholson.
The company ended its contract even after Benetton agreed to allow Sears to
preview future ads. Sears had previously said it would keep the contract under
Sears has been weighing its decision to terminate the contract since it
learned the content of the ads in early January, ''and it ultimately came to
the point we felt this decision had to be made,'' Nicholson said.
''We have been hearing from people who have lost loved ones to some of the
folks who have been profiled,'' Nicholson said. ''It's reopened wounds and
brought back a lot of painful memories and people are hurt by it. They feel
the (inmates are) glorified and the victims are ignored.''
On Wednesday groups picketed a Houston Sears store and Benetton's New York
office. Hours later, Sears announced it would immediately pull
Benetton-designed clothing from all 400 Sears stores that have been selling
the Benetton USA line.
''The advertising campaign was inconsistent with what Sears has come to
stand for and is inconsistent with the customer base we serve,'' said
Nicholson. ''We have a high level of customer trust and loyalty, and there has
been some strong emotional reaction to (Benetton's) campaign.''
The ads, which began appearing in magazines and on billboards late last
month, feature portraits of American death row inmates in prison uniforms over
the words, ''Sentenced to Death.'' The ads also give the inmate's name, date
of birth, crime and expected method of execution.
Benetton officials said the ads were meant to raise awareness about the
death penalty, but victims' rights groups said the ads glorified convicted
killers and were insensitive to victims' families and friends.
''Everybody has the right to their opinion, but the ad campaign is not a
social debate,'' said Dianne Clements, president of Justice for All, a
Houston-based victims' rights group. ''If it were, there would be balance.
This is not about the death penalty, it's about Benetton products. Benetton
wants to spoon-feed the American consuming public their interpretation of
social awareness, (but) we will regurgitate it.'' She said she has ''an
absolute, utmost respect for Sears and their decision.'' Clements said
Benetton was not a good association for Sears, which she said is an
Benetton spokesman Mark Major did not immediately return a phone call
seeking comment on Sears' decision. But earlier Wednesday he said Benetton
stood by its ads and believed it had succeeded in ''launching a national and
global discussion on capital punishment. This had nothing to do with
apparel; nothing to do with the product,'' Major said. ''Benetton has
historically approached social issues and we think it is important ... to
engage people to think about issues.''
Benetton has made headlines in the past with ads addressing such topics as
AIDS and racism. It also prompted protests from the Roman Catholic Church in
the 1990s for ads featuring models dressed as a priest and a nun that were
Sears, based in the Chicago suburb of Hoffman Estates, introduced the
clothing line, called Benetton USA, last fall to help boost lagging clothing
sales. Benetton made that line exclusively for Sears and continued to sell its
United Colors of Benetton clothing in its own stores.
We have always believed that Sears would make
the right decision and we
applaud them for taking this action to show their respect for the families
murder victims who have been hurt by this campaign.
times since 12/7/99
Copyright © 2000 [Justice For All]. All rights reserved.
Revised: October 01, 2000