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SPECIAL REPORT | Rihanna weighed in on everything from India to Myanmar, but Fenty is no stranger to controversy

Most recently, Fenty Beauty was slammed with child labor allegations by the Indian statutory body National Commission for Protection of Child Rights.
Rihanna attends the Fenty Beauty by Rihanna Anniversary Event at Overseas Passenger Terminal (Getty Images)
Rihanna attends the Fenty Beauty by Rihanna Anniversary Event at Overseas Passenger Terminal (Getty Images)

In 2014, Barbadian singer Robyn Rihanna Fenty trademarked her surname to use in a range of products. Her cosmetic brand Fenty Beauty was born amid speculation that she was trying her hand in ventures other than music. Thus the make-up line was launched in 2017. Despite competition from existing make-up lines including Kim Kardashian West’s KKW Beauty, Tarte’s Shape Tape Foundation, and Benefit’s Hello Happy foundation, Fenty products went on to set a new standard in the beauty industry.

Inclusivity, with her vision “Beauty for All”, wasn’t treated as a selling point by the brand but rather a principle value which pretty much shifted the beauty landscape. While the singer established from the very beginning that absolutely no one was to be excluded from representing her beauty brand with respect to skin tone, race, or gender, Fenty Beauty has still come under fire over the years by getting entangled in a row of controversies. 

Fenty Beauty (Getty Images)

Rihanna criticized for refusing to use Trans models as a ‘marketing tool’

Fenty Beauty’s campaign was considered one of the most diverse campaigns when it was first launched in September 2017. However, just months into its launch, the brand was criticized for failing to feature transgender models in its ads as Rihanna allegedly refused to do “trans casting”. When one of her fans suggested that she should include trans people in her Fenty’s campaign, she wrote over DM, "I've had the pleasure of working with many gifted trans women throughout the years, but I don't go around doing trans castings! Just like I don't do straight non trans women castings! I respect all women, and whether they're trans or not is none of my business!"

She explained further, “It's personal and some trans women are more comfortable being open about it than others, so I have to respect that as a woman myself! I don't think it's fair that a trans woman, or man, be used as a convenient marketing tool! Too often do I see companies doing this to trans and black women alike! There's always just that one spot in the campaign for the token 'we look mad diverse' girl/guy! It's sad!"

Rihanna attends Sephora loves Fenty Beauty by Rihanna store event in Milan, Italy. (Getty Images)

While some praised the singer for her stance on featuring people from the trans community in Fenty Beauty campaigns, a few slammed her for her viewpoint, costing transgender individuals who are seeking visibility through various platforms.

One Twitter user with the handle @rubyandqueenie shared in November 2017, “We respect Rihanna and agree that Trans bodies are used as an easy way to make brands appear "inclusive". But at this point visibility is integral for trans ppl. More brands need to be hiring trans/gnc ppl and poc in GENERAL. Ps: hiring them means paying them.”


Seconding the above tweet another user @saintknives tweeted, “that rihanna post about using trans models is really bad and is the same exact logic white people use to deny proper representation of black women in media.”


Rihanna did not comment on the people criticizing her decision which was deemed as an easy copout.  

Fenty Beauty’s 2018 Super Bowl ad slammed for “hurtful term”

During the Super Bowl in 2018 which took place at the U.S Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Rihanna released her commercial for Fenty Beauty, featuring the viral sensation Saweetie. The ad featured a group of women getting ready for the Super Bowl pre-party when they begin addressing one another with the slang “Bitch”. While the commercial was reportedly made with the intention of adding a modern twist to Budwiser’s 90’s popular “Wasssup” ad, Fenty Beauty’s video came to be criticized for using the cuss word. 


According to The Source, reacting to Fenty’s Super Bowl ad, ‘Annie’ actress Eden Duncan-Smith said, “These ad execs believe themselves to be culture creators. The responsibility that lies in their ability push culture forward is pulled back by using this hurtful word as a term of endearment.”

Fenty Beauty’s ‘Geisha Chic’ highlighter pulled after severe backlash

In April 2019, Fenty Beauty launched a shade of highlighter called ‘Geisha Chic’. It was advertised as ‘Killawatt’ highlighters’ new collection, a shimmery product used to draw attention to certain facial features. At the time of the launch of the brand, Rihanna had said, “I wanted things that I love. Then I also wanted things that girls of all skin tones could fall in love with. That was really important for me.”

However, the new product was severely criticized for its title, as many called out the brand for cultural appropriation and the “offensive” term. A large number of people on social media started circulated the images of ‘Geisha Chic’ highlighter, condemning the brand for its reference to Japanese female entertainers. The product was soon pulled from the market and it was reported that in response to one social media user’s comment about the brand’s insensitivity towards Asian Culture, Fenty Beauty issued an apology, thanking them for “educating” about the same.

The statement read, "We hear you, we have pulled the product until it can be renamed. We wanted to personally apologize. Thank you so much for educating us.” The product hasn’t been re-launched in the market with a different label. 


Use of Islamic term “Hadith” in a song for Savage X Fenty Fashion show

Last October, Fenty Beauty once again made headlines when the singer decided to use the song ‘Doom’ by Coucou Chloe in a Savage X Fenty fashion show. The song included the Islamic “Hadith”. the use of which was found to be offensive to the Muslim community. 

Chloe apologized for not being aware of the Islamic verse in the song she sang for the Fenty fashion show. Rihanna also apologized to the Muslim community through one of her Instagram stories. She wrote, “I’d like to thank the Muslim community for pointing out a huge oversight that was unintentionally offensive in our savage x fenty show. I would more importantly like to apologize to you for this honest, yet careless mistake. We understand that we have hurt many of our Muslim brothers and sisters, and i’m incredibly disheartened by this! I do not play with any kind of disrespect towards God or any religion and therefore the use of the song in our project was completely irresponsible! Moving forward we will make sure nothing like this ever happened again. Thank you for your forgiveness and understand, Rih.”

(Getty Images)

Child labor allegations against Fenty Beauty after Rihanna’s tweet about Indian farmers

Most recently, Fenty Beauty has been slammed with child labor allegations by the Indian statutory body National Commission for Protection of Child Rights. NCPCR received a complaint from the NGO Legal Rights Observatory alleging that Mica (a silicate material) used in Fenty Beauty products is procured from mines in Jharkhand, India, where “child labourers work in dire conditions”. 

The complaints states, “As per reports, US pop star Rihanna’s beauty product ‘Fenty Beauty’ uses blood mica from Jharkhand in which child labourers work in dire conditions. To ascertain that the mica is free of child labour, there are certificate agencies. But media reports say that Fenty Beauty don’t have supply chain clearance certification (SCCC) from either of the two.” Demanding an investigation into the matter, LRO said, “With this letter, we would like to request you to investigate whether Fenty Beauty is using uncertified mica and if true then please start appropriate penal action against the company and its owners.”

 (Getty Images)

The alleged child labor allegations against Fenty Beauty were made after Rihanna spoke about the ongoing farmers’ protest in India. On February 2, she shared one of CNN’s stories about the Internet disconnection in Delhi, India amid growing clashes between the farmers and police over controversial agricultural reforms. The singer wrote in her caption, “why aren’t we talking about this?! #FarmersProtest”


Several Indian politicians and the Foreign Ministry slammed Rihanna for her political activism and interference in matters concerning the Indian government and the farmers. In a statement issued on February 3, India’s external affairs ministry said, “The temptation of sensationalist social media hashtags and comments, especially when resorted to by celebrities and others, is neither accurate nor responsible.”