Yesterday, the Swatch Group filed a lawsuit against the Malaysian government. Swatch wants the government to return confiscated watches celebrating LGBTQ+ rights. Back in March…
Officers from the Malaysian Home Ministry seized 172 Swatches from 11 in-country shopping malls, with a combined retail value of 64,795 ringgit ($14,250.05). The watches include the six designs above. Huh?
“The only fact I know is that the confiscation was because the watches had LGBT symbols, not because of the colors,” Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said back in May. There’s some confusion on that point.
Swatch told Reuters that “most” of the seized watches did not contain ‘LGBTQ’ lettering. So I guess some did. The product shot above (from Swatch’s website) shows rainbow-colored keepers, but I can’t find an image of the caseback.
In any case (so to speak), Swatch is seeking damages and the return of the watches. The Swiss watchmaker claims the seizures have “greatly jeopardized” its ability to do business in the country.
With the LGBTQ community, sure. Swatch’s public/legal stand against the seizure will help them there – even if there’s no way their customers can wear a Pride watch in public without risking life and limb.
As for Malaysia’s gen pop, the mostly Muslim country’s intolerance on sexual orientation and certain sexual practices is a majority view. Wikipedia:
“There has been some public discussion about reforming the law so as to exempt private, non-commercial sexual acts between consenting adults.
“Some members of the major opposition party have expressed support for such a reform, most notably Latheefa Koya, but this is not the official position of the party. No political party or elected member of the Parliament has formally proposed such a reform.”
Bottom line: Swatch’s lawsuit will make it few friends in Malaysia, the fifth largest economy in Southeast Asia and the 38th largest in the world.
Big whoop? One-hundred-seventy-two watches is hardly a huge loss for Swatch in the grand scheme of things. Also true if Swatch gets booted out Malaysia. Last year, Swatch racked-up $8.18b in sales worldwide.
Swatch Group CEO Nick Hayek’s stood by his previous statement on the raids and seizures in Malaysia, asserting that there’s no way “using rainbow colors and having a message of peace and love could be harmful.” Well…
There are a whole bunch of mostly Muslim countries out there, including Indonesia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. None of those countries are what you’d call LGTBQ+ friendly.
The Swatch group sells a shit ton of high-end watches in those countries: Blancpain, Breguet, Glasshutte, Jaquet Droz and Harry Winston. Swatch also owns OMEGA, Longines and Hamilton. I don’t know their sales stats in the aforementioned countries, but it’s a lot more than nothing.
If Malaysia’s Swatch kerfuffle blows up, if an anti-Swatch boycott spreads worldwide dinging sales of Swatches and the Group’s upmarket brands, harm will be done.
Watch this space. Meanwhile, props to Swatch for sticking to their horological guns, defending the brand’s full-on commitment to inclusivity and diversity. Here’s hoping they don’t have to pay the price. And if they do, they do.