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Volkswagen apologizes for 'racist' ad posted on Instagram account

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Key Points
  • Volkswagen has removed an ad from its German Instagram account after admitting it was "racist."
  • The ad depicted a large, white hand pushing a dark-skinned man around a parked VW Golf, before flicking him into a doorway.

Volkswagen has removed an ad from its German Instagram account after admitting it was "racist."

The ad showed a large, white hand appearing to push a dark-skinned man around a parked VW Golf, before flicking him into a doorway.

A VW spokesperson said told CNBC via email: "We firmly distance ourselves from the video and apologize sincerely. We will investigate how this could have happened — and draw the necessary consequences."

Bernd Osterloh, VW's workers' representative and supervisory board member, posted on LinkedIn that he was "ashamed."

"The racist clip for #Golf … makes us stunned. I'm ashamed of this spot — and I'm sure I'm speaking for the whole workforce. The clip is disgusting," he posted Wednesday in German according to translation via LinkedIn.

The clip, which was posted on and deleted from VW's German account, was part of an Instagram Stories series that showed an interracial couple falling in love, according to a Financial Times report.

In a statement titled "Apology for racist advertising video" posted on Twitter on Wednesday, VW brand board member Jurgen Stackmann and group head of diversity Elke Heitmuller said: "We understand the public outrage at this, because we're horrified too."

"It is an insult to every decent person. We're ashamed of it and cannot explain how it came about. We apologize in particular to those who feel personally hurt by the racist content," they said, according to a translation by Reuters.

@jstackmann Ich entschuldige mich aufrichtig als Einzelperson in meiner Funktion als Vorstandsmitglied bei Volkswagen Sales & Marketing. Hass, Rassismus und Diskriminierung haben bei Volkswagen keinen Platz! Ich werde in diesem Fall persönlich für volle Transparenz und Konsequenzen sorgen!

The hand was filmed close to the camera, creating the illusion that it was controlling the figure further away, a common technique used in social media videos. The ad was made by a creative agency, according to the Financial Times. 

Stackmann and Heitmuller also referred to VW's history of employing forced labor during the Nazi regime.

"We at Volkswagen are aware of the historical origins and the guilt of our company during the Nazi regime. That is precisely why we resolutely oppose all forms of hatred, slander/propaganda and discrimination," their statement said.

Osterloh said the incident must be investigated. "The works council demands a full clarification of the responsibilities behind the Insta story. It is also important to us that our workforce lives diversity and is committed to combating racism in so many forms," he wrote on LinkedIn.