These 13 brands have controversial, dark origins

AP ImagesThe designer Hugo Boss helped dress the SS.
  • Brands aren’t immune to having skeletons in their proverbial closets.
  • Many of these controversial pasts date back to World War II and the Holocaust.
  • A number of well-known and popular brands were directly involved in supporting the Nazi war effort.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

2019 brought about a number of bombshell revelations regarding JAB Holding Company, the conglomerate behind notable brands like Panera Bread, Pret a Manger, Krispy Kreme, and Au Bon Pain.

JAB is controlled by Germany’s billionaire Reimann family.German newspaper Bild uncovered documents indicating that company founders “Albert Reimann Sr. and Albert Reimann Jr. were supporters of the Nazi party and that during World War II they used Russian civilians and French prisoners of war as forced laborers.”

According to the New York Times, the company’s history became even more complicated when it was revealed that the Reimann family actually descends from both Albert Reimann Jr. and Emilie Landecker, a young woman whose Jewish father was killed by the Nazis.

Read more: 11 times kidnappers targeted millionaires and high-profile executives around the globe

JAB Holding has set about addressing the controversy through philanthropic contributions. A JAB spokesperson told Business Insider that the company has set up a “€10 million fund, donated to provide humanitarian assistance for survivors of the Holocaust and victims of forced labour in World War II.”

JAB Holding isn’t the only company that’s had to reckon with its past, although its story is arguably more complicated than most.

Business Insider rounded up a number of companies with particularly dark histories. Out of those, L’Oréal, Chanel, the Volkswagen Group, Ford, Hugo Boss, and BMW did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment. Puma declined to comment.

Here’s a look at a number of companies with notably controversial pasts:


In addition to its €10 million donation, a JAB spokesperson told Business Insider that the company also plans “to provide €250 million to the Alfred Landecker Foundation over the next 10 years, which will become a rolling commitment in perpetuity.”

Matt Dunham/AP ImagesA Pret A Manger in London.

Source: Business Insider,

Alfred Landecker Foundation


The Alfred Landecker Foundation’s stated mission is to educate “current and future generations about the Holocaust and the terrible price paid when intolerance and bigotry reign.” The foundation is named for Emilie Landecker’s father.

Helen89/ShutterstockJAB Holding owns Panera Bread.

Source: Business Insider,

Alfred Landecker Foundation


Fashion designer Hugo Boss was an active member of the Nazi Party during World War II. So it’s no surprise that his firm produced uniforms for both the SS and the Hitler Youth, sometimes using the forced labour of French and Polish prisoners.

AP ImagesNazi SS troops march in 1936.

Source: BBC


Hugo Boss invested in a study by scholar Roman Köster that looked into its founder’s Nazi leanings. The company also donated to the the Remembrance, Responsibility and Future Foundation, an organised that provided reparations for forced laborers.

Getty/Andreas RentzHugo Boss shoppers.

Source: WWD


L’Oréal founder Eugène Schueller was a member of La Cagoule, a fascist secret society bent on overthrowing France’s democratic government in the years before World War II.

Photo 12 / Contributor / Getty ImagesFrench investigators inspect weapons confiscated from La Cagoule in 1937.

Source: Business Insider


In 1925, Fred Koch Sr. founded Winkler-Koch Engineering Company, a predecessor to the modern-day Koch Industries. In her book “Dark Money,” Jane Mayer wrote that Winkler-Koch went on to build refineries in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin.

MSNBC/YoutubeCharles and David Koch.

Source: Business Insider, “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right


Koch Industries responded to Business Insider’s request for comment with a statement saying that Ed Koch agreed to work on a Hamburg refinery “six years before Germany invaded Poland” and that the businessman quit dealing with Nazi Germany “when it became clear that Hitler’s government was a tyrannical regime.”

Sue Ogrocki/AP ImagesKoch Nitrogen Company.

Source: Koch Industries


Edwin Black’s 2001 book “IBM and the Holocaust” alleged that IBM provided extensive technological support to Nazi Germany for 12 years, based on a trove of archived documents.

AP ImagesAn IBM typewriter from 1961.

Source: HuffPost, “IBM and the Holocaust


An IBM spokesperson said that Black’s work has been “discredited by several reviewers and scholars” and told Business Insider: “We have been consistently clear: IBM and its employees around the world maintain that the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime are abhorrent and condemn any actions which aided their unspeakable acts.”

Chicago History Museum/Getty ImagesAn IBM typewriter.

The spokesperson also cited Kevin Maney, who wrote that Thomas Watson Sr. likely didn’t know what the Nazis were using his technology for, and said that IBM’s German operations “came under the control of Nazi authorities prior to and during World War II.”

Bettmann / Contributor / Getty ImagesA ceramic substrate.

Two biographies on iconic fashion designer Coco Chanel — “Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War” and “Coco Chanel: An Intimate Life” — allege that Chanel became a secret agent for Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage, a German intelligence officer with whom she struck up a relationship during World War II.

AP ImagesCoco Chanel.

Source: Business Insider, The Associated Press, “Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War,” “Coco Chanel: An Intimate Life


Today, the car brands Volkswagen, Porsche, and Audi are all situated under the umbrella of the the Volkswagen Group. The trio of brands also share a dark past when it comes to World War II.

AP ImagesA photo from Adolf Hitler’s 1938 speech at the opening of the Volkswagen car factory.

Source: Business Insider’s Household Name, BBC, New York Daily News,


Ferdinand Porsche was a famous German engineer and Nazi Party member known for founding his namesake car company and inventing the Volkswagen Beetle on orders from Hitler. Audi’s predecessor, Auto Union, also reportedly relied on slave labour during the war.

AP ImagesAn Auto Union race car from the 1930s.

Source: Business Insider’s Household Name, BBC, New York Daily News,


The founders of shoe brands Adidas and Puma weren’t just brothers — Adolf and Rudolf Dassler were also both members of the Nazi Party during World War II. The Dassler brothers worked together in the shoe business initially, but they ultimately broke up over some mysterious falling out.

Eckehard Schulz/AP ImagesAdidas shoes.

Source: Business Insider, The Cut, Vice


Adolf went on to found Adidas, while Rudolf launched Puma. Vice reported that neither brother was particularly committed to Nazism, however.

Ralph Orlowski/Getty Images

Source: Business Insider, The Cut, Vice


Adidas’ founder’s stated political leanings also didn’t stop him from quietly sponsoring African-American athlete Jesse Owens during the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. Owens went on to win four gold medals at the Games.

AP PhotoJesse Owens won the gold medal for the long jump during the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin.

Source: Adidas


An Adidas spokesperson told Business Insider that helping athletes “perform at their best was more important to Adi Dassler than politics,” and that the company is “proud that Adi Dassler showed moral courage … in this darkest phase of German history.”

Bethany Biron/Business InsiderModern day Adidas shoes.

Source: Adidas


Henry Ford was an innovative American businessman, but he used his status to spread anti-Semitic views in the early 20th century. PBS reported that by buying the newspaper The Dearborn Independent, Ford was able to print a 91-issue “series of articles that claimed a vast Jewish conspiracy was infecting America.”

AP ImagesHenry Ford.

Source: PBS


The Quandt family, longtime powerful BMW shareholders, benefitted by “taking over scores of Jewish businesses” during World War II, according to the Independent. The New York Post reported in 2016 that the car company expressed “profound regret” for using slave labour and supporting the Nazi war effort by manufacturing aircraft and motorcycles.

AP ImagesA Focke-Wulf 200 Condor.

Source: New York Post, Forbes

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