Ford workers angry as blacks are whited out

Altered image: Motor giant pays compensation to employees who found their faces didn't fit

Barrie Clement
Wednesday 21 February 1996 01:02 GMT

When Henry Ford launched his Model T automobile, he told customers they could have in any colour they liked - as long as it was black.

Mr Ford's comments will be seen as bitterly ironic by British workers who were photographed to launch the "Everything we do is driven by you" advertising campaign in 1991.

Five members of ethnic minorities were invited to appear in the picture to show the racial mix of Ford's workforce at Dagenham, but in an "ethnic- cleansed" version of the photograph last year, the black and brown faces had been mysteriously replaced by white ones.

Four of the five workers still working at Dagenham have since registered their anger over what they perceive as blatant racism.

Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, yesterday condemned the incident as "deeply offensive". He said: "This is an appalling situation which reveals the depths of racist attitudes in our society."

He said the union had elicited fulsome apologies from management and a pounds 1,500 cheque for each of the workers, in compensation for their hurt feelings. "We shall be equally vigorous in tackling racism in future, wherever it surfaces."

The dramatic transformation in the picture was first noticed by Noel Sinclair, a worker at Ford's Dagenham plant, when he walked into a showroom in Essex.

Mr Sinclair took the new brochure back to the paint, trim and assembly department at the Essex plant and showed four of his friends, who had readily agreed to pose.

Douglas Sinclair, a 56-year-old black man who has worked at the plant for 30 years, said his body remained in the picture, but a white, bespectacled face had appeared on top of it.

"My body was there, dressed in my overalls, the rings on my fingers were still there, but I had glasses on and a white face. It was embarrassing. People at work started to come up to me and call me 'Two Face'."

Patricia Marquis said she felt "humiliated and angry" when she saw that her face had aged 20 years, that she had put on 10lb and turned white.

"I wanted an explanation from them. They had changed my face for God's sake - what on earth did they think they were doing?" Keith Thomas, 40, who saw his face and arms replaced with those of a white man, immediately thought it was racist."Why didn't they just use a different picture? It was a racist act, quite clearly."

The TGWU branch at the plant had considerable difficulty containing anger over the incident, and hundreds of workers walked out three weeks ago, causing an estimated pounds 2.8m worth of lost production.

Management said the "mistake" had been made by Ogilvy & Mather, the advertising agency, which vehemently denies any racist intent.

The new picture, with the white faces, had been issued for a Ford promotion in Poland because the original photograph "did not portray the ethnic mix" in Eastern Europe.

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