[UPDATED: 29th May 2023]
Swatch Group CEO Nick Hayek has refuted claims made by prime minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, stating that the Pride watches seized by local authorities did not reference the LGBT community. According to a statement released by the group, Anwar had on Thursday mentioned that the timepieces were confiscated due to the “LGBT wording” displayed on the dial, not because they came in rainbow colours.
“Apparently he was misinformed. Swatch has not included any reference to the LGBT community on the dials of this year's Pride Collection,” said Hayek.
The colourful watches included the meaning of each pride colour — life, healing, sunlight, nature, harmony and spirit — on their minute hands and two loops that form a rainbow.
However, new reports have surfaced, in which the brand’s spokesperson mentioned that the ministry not only seized watches from the Pride collection but also collections from the previous years. A total of 164 watches from nine different variations, worth more RM64,000, were seized from 11 of its outlets during the two-day raid.
Following the uproar over Coldplay’s Nov 22 concert in Malaysia, which drew ire among conservative political parties that oppose the band’s advocacy for LGBTQIA+ rights, another controversy is swirling around the nation.
On May 13 and 14, numerous Swatch stores in Malaysia were raided for displaying its Pride Collection, which was brought to the attention of authorities via a social media post that associated the collection with the British band’s support for the LGBTQIA+ community.
The timepieces, adorned with rainbow colours that signify diversity and inclusivity, were seized by the Ministry of Home Affairs (KDN), which carried raids at multiple Swatch stores namely Pavilion Kuala Lumpur, One Utama, Sunway Pyramid, Setia City Mall, Mid Valley Megamall, Southkey, Sunway Putra Mall, Sogo KL, Queensbay, Fahrenheit 88 and Suria Sabah. Five stores have received warnings: KTCC (Terengganu), Aeon KB, Aman Central Kedah, City Square and Viva City Kuching.
Nick Hayek Jr, CEO of Swatch Group, has expressed his dismay and concern in response to the seizure, while reinforcing the brand’s ethos of championing innovation and diversity. Swatch has always been known for using its colourful and fun watches as a means to celebrate individuals from all walks of life.
“Swatch is proud of being the canvas on the wrist for all people worldwide and many artists working with us. Creativity and colours paired with Swiss-made quality is what we are loved for. We strongly contest that our collection of watches using rainbow colours and having a message of peace and love could be harmful for whomever.
“On the contrary, Swatch always promotes a positive message of joy in life. This is nothing political. We wonder how the Bahagian Penguatkuasa Dan Kawalan, Kementerian Dalam Negeri will confiscate the many beautiful natural rainbows that are showing up thousand times a year in the sky of Malaysia,” said Hayek.
The ongoing backlash casts light on Malaysia’s level of tolerance for not just cultural diversity but also the limits of freedom of expression in marketing and advertising campaigns. Over the years, conservatives have made calls to boycott companies espousing progressive values or rolling out products that defy traditional gender norms.
At press time, Swatch Group is making appeals for the confiscated watches to be returned.
Stay tuned for updates.