After sexist blunders: ‘SM, Bench need internal watchdogs’

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After sexist blunders: ‘SM, Bench need internal watchdogs’
Women's rights groups ask SM CEO Henry Sy Jr and Bench CEO Ben Chan to establish internal guidelines and standards so their recent 'misrepresentation of people's rights' do not happen again

FOR EQUAL RIGHTS. SM Store marketing head Queenie Cua accepts the letter of the petitioners for Henry Sy Jr. Photo from Danah Gutierrez

MANILA, Philippines – Citing SM’s sale of shirts that trivialized rape and Bench’s fashion show that supposedly treated men’s and women’s bodies as commodities, rights groups have asked the two companies to create internal watchdogs to ensure these “misrepresentation of people’s rights” do not happen again.

The groups CCOMedia,, One Billion Rising,, Gabriela, and Gabriela Youth delivered letters of complaints to the offices of SM Group of Companies CEO Henry Sy Jr and Bench CEO Ben Chan on Thursday, October 9.

In their letter to SM’s Sy, the groups said: “Rape is a gross violation of human rights, a crime against persons, and an abhorrent assault on individual freedom. No one, regardless of a person’s social status, age, physical appearance, mental capacity or disability, deserves to be raped. Thus, rape or any form of sexual violence should never be made fun of.”

‘Trivialization of rape’

Photo of the rape t-shirt that went viral.

SM got the ire of netizens on September 2014 when photos of t-shirts with the slogan  “It’s not rape. It’s a snuggle with a struggle” went viral. Netizens accused SM’s management of propagating sexism and rape culture, and demanded that the shirts be pulled from circulation, and that the ones responsible get sanctioned.

The mall giant immediately ordered the t-shirts pulled out.

A few days later, however, another t-shirt with the slogan “Easy to hipo ang hipon” went viral. “Hipon” (shrimp) refers to someone with a nice body but with an ugly face or nothing between his or her ears. The basic message of the shirt was that if you are ugly or dumb, you are an easier prey to sexual advances.

The petitioners said both incidents indicate the absence of an internal mechanism or clearing house of products that SM sells to the public.

They added: “The responsibility of SM does not end with your withdrawal of the rape t-shirt from your shelves…. SM has the responsibility to name the sources (i.e., the supplier and the producer of these t-shirts) so they can be made accountable for these products that undermine the seriousness of rape and sexual violence.”

According to data from the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), many rape cases are not reported because of the trivialization on rape and victims are shamed. From 2004 to 2012, rape cases accounted for some 9.6% of the violence against women (VAW) cases.

The petitioners asked Sy to act on the following measures:

  • Establish internal guidelines and standards for your suppliers and advertisers that would reflect your commitment to uphold the dignity of the person most especially women and children.
  • Create an internal watchdog that will regularly monitor your company’s compliance with the Philippine laws on women’s and young people’s rights.
  • Conduct an inventory of the products that are currently on display to check if there are similar messages damaging to human dignity.
  • Name the suppliers/producers of the rape and the ‘hipon’ t-shirts so their attention can be called. 

‘Commodification of people’

The group also filed a formal complaint against Bench CEO Ben Chan to follow up on the online petition for the company’s “objectionable degradation of women” during “The Naked Truth” fashion show.

Intended to show the clothing line’s new set of underwear designs, “The Naked Truth” fashion show got negative reactions due to its “commodification of bodies” and the “glorification of a specific body type.” (READ: Benchmarking the naked truth)

The rights groups cited two segments of the show to prove these points. The first was when actors Tom Rodriguez and Dennis Trillo watched two women kiss. “Do you believe this is how a gender-fair production staged by a company of Bench’s stature should express the integrity of human relationships?” the group said.

On the second, when a woman on a leash was led by actor Coco Martin, the group asked the Bench executive, “Do you believe this is how a gender-fair production staged by a company of Bench’s stature should portray women and their supposedly equal status vis-à-vis men?”

‘Bench’s missing apology’

The group wrote the Bench executive not only for the fashion show content but also for the “insincere apology that came afterwards.” (READ: Bench founder Ben Chan addresses controversial Coco Martin ‘Naked Truth’ issue)

While Bench made a public apology on Facebook after Senator Pia Cayetano spoke to the company on September 23, the post was taken down in less than 24 hours.

On this, the group asked: “What was that non-apology apology about, Mr. Chan? Why was it removed from the company’s official Facebook page? Isn’t such a removal tantamount to disowning or even retracting the apology?”

ON A LEASH. Actor Coco Martin received a backlash from the public after this segment  'The Naked Truth,' the Bench fashion show. He issued an apology a few days after the event. Photo by Manman Dejeto/Rappler

The petitioners asked that Chan act on the following:

  • Declare categorically your position on the criticism leveled against “ The Naked Truth.” Did it in fact issue an acknowledgment of these or not? Is it committing to factoring in these criticisms for its next show or not? Why was the apology then removed from Bench’s official Facebook page?
  • Bench’s apology said: “We at Bench shall continue to uphold the dignity of women and our commitment will remain so.” The company has loyal followers that unfortunately have treated our concerns with a similar insouciance. Some even dismiss Bench’s critics as “ugly fatsos no man would consider raping.”

  • Establish internal guidelines and standards for your suppliers and advertisers that will reflect your commitment to uphold the dignity of all, but most especially women and children.

  • Create an internal watchdog that will regularly monitor your company’s compliance with the Philippine laws on women’s and young people’s rights.

The two companies have yet to issue a formal response to the letters.

Below are the copies of the letters. 

Letter to SM CEO Henry Sy Jr.

Letter to Bench CEO Ben Chan.


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