Sharpton and Jackson forced Cadbury apology

US civil rights activists stepped in after company compared Naomi Campbell to a chocolate bar

One of America's leading civil rights activists, Reverend Al Sharpton, was instrumental in forcing Cadbury to apologise to the supermodel Naomi Campbell for comparing her to a chocolate bar after the race row went global, it emerged last night.

Mr Sharpton waded into the dispute, which had raised the prospect of a consumer boycott and legal action from Campbell, after it was first highlighted by The Independent on Sunday last week.

The American Baptist minister raised the issue on his radio talk show, referring to Cadbury's advertisement for its Bliss range of Dairy Milk chocolate bars, which said "Move over Naomi – there is a new diva in town". Cadbury is owned by the US food giant Kraft.

The UK-based campaign group Operation Black Vote (OBV), which helped to kickstart the protest against Cadbury, wrote to Mr Sharpton to ask him to lend his support. OBV's Simon Woolley, a guest on Sharpton's radio show last week, said yesterday: "This shows that our communities have clout. The story went way beyond the UK. For African Americans, this was a no-brainer. According to Sharpton, the only way to deal with [issues like this] is to have an African diaspora that supports each other."

Tamrika Mallory, executive director of Mr Sharpton's civil rights campaign group National Action Network, said: "The reverend felt this was deeply offensive. Naomi is an icon and has worked very hard, so to be compared to food or an object is offensive." She added that the race row was bigger than just one distasteful advertisement.

"It's yet another example of corporate insensitivity towards minorities, and proof that advertising rooms are still largely devoid of diversity."

The Rev Jesse Jackson also responded to a letter from OBV, pledging his support for its attempt to get Cadbury to apologise.

Mr Woolley said: "Cadbury's first response was, frankly, shocking and derisory. But once this all went global Cadbury was suddenly beating a path to my door. There was a quantum leap in its change of attitude."

In a statement issued last Friday, Cadbury said it was "not our intention that this campaign should offend Naomi, her family or anybody else, and we are sincerely sorry that it has done so".

It drew a line under the incident, adding: "We have been in discussions with Naomi's solicitors and can confirm that they have accepted our apology on her behalf as a conclusion to this issue."

Campbell, who had said she was shocked and insulted to be described as chocolate, said: "I'm pleased that Cadbury have made a 'sincere apology' in regards to their Bliss ad campaign. The advertisement was in poor taste on a number of levels, not least in the way they likened me to their chocolate bar. It is also a shame that it took so long for Cadbury to offer this apology."

She added: "I hope they and other multinationals can learn from this: that offence may not be their intention, but when it is shown that it has caused offence a sincere apology straightaway goes a long a way.

"Better still, they should avoid causing offence in the first place, which is best achieved by having greater diversity at board and senior management level."

Additional reporting by Hana Chambers