Sinterklaas Brand & Product report 2019: Smudged Cheeks and Middle Fingers

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The European Race and Imagery Foundation’s (ERIF) annual Brand & Product report charts the evolution and relevance of the (Zwarte) Piet character, alongside the development of discussions on race, racism and inclusion, specific to the Netherlands. Our fourth report, providing coverage of the 2018-2019 discussion, can be downloaded via our website now!

The project began in 2015, when ERIF launched the study in order to advise concerned parents which products they could purchase for the Sinterklaas season without the distress of encountering blackface imagery. It was also ERIF’s intention at the time to monitor certain brands and companies that were promising to remove blackface imagery from their packaging and advertising campaigns. Our study has developed over time to explore how each store and brand featured navigates the changing attitudes and discussions on Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet, through how they display, package and market their various products. This offers a proxy on general attitudes of culture, tradition, power and race relations in the Netherlands.

Since the first edition, published in January 2016, ERIF has released a further three reports, including the report published this year. This year’s report innovates as it includes a broader commentary on the (Dutch and/or European) socio-political context of anti-black racism and interviews with leading campaigners and thinkers on this topic. Interviews with Xavier Donker (OCAN), Richard Kofi, Simone Zeefuik, Gloria Holwerda-Williams (InterNational Anti-Racism Group), and Marny Garcia (Afro Student Association, Leiden University)  add very interesting perspectives to  the statistical data and analysis of our report.


  • Number of products and ads without any Piet reference, or with only a vague reference, is steady – about 51% in both 2017 and 2018.
  • Slightly less imagery featuring real black people and/or white people in blackface as the Piet character, down by 1% between 2017 and 2018.
  • More imagery of depictions of Piet character as a chimney sweep with soot marks on face and clothes instead of blackface.
  • More use of cartoons of a blackface Piet in 2018 (after a decline in 2017).
  • Two big supermarket chains have gone through major brand makeovers since 2017, especially in their depictions of Zwarte Piet, one of the stores being stronger and more commercially viable in its marketing than the other.
Store vs. grade comparison (%) 2018. Grade 1 = no visible references to the Piet character on a Sinterklaas product or advertisement. Grade 7 = usage of imagery featuring a real person in blackface and other stereotypical depictions of a black person as the Zwarte Piet character on a Sinterklaas product or advertisement. Grades in between 1 and 7 show a general movement towards more problematic versions of the Piet character, culminating in use of racial stereotype and blackface.


For any questions or comments about the report, contact 



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