Merchandise displaying the Confederate battle flag is swiftly being prohibited from sale by major retailers in what has turned into a nationwide movement sparked by the killing of nine people at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., last week. The retailers' messaging, aimed at an emotional public during a time when nerves are frayed, has had to be carefully crafted and considerate.
In the aftermath of the shooting, pictures of the accused gunman posing with the flag surfaced, prompting a movement to encourage retailers and governments to stop the sale and display of the flag. On social media, advocates of banning the flag rallied around the hashtag #TakeItDown.
Big brands including Walmart, eBay, Sears, Amazon, Kmart, Etsy and Google Shopping have responded in a big way, disavowing the flag and removing it from their stores. Let's take a look at how some of these brands have communicated their decision to ban the Confederate flag from sale in their stores.
- Amazon: "We will investigate each report [of Confederate flags being sold on Amazon] thoroughly and take any appropriate actions." (via CNN)
- eBay: "We have decided to prohibit Confederate flags, and many items containing this image, because we believe it has become a contemporary symbol of divisiveness and racism. This decision is consistent with our long-standing policy that prohibits items that promote or glorify hatred, violence and racial intolerance." (via CNN)
- Etsy: "Today, we are removing Confederate flag items from our marketplace. Etsy’s policies prohibit items or listings that promote, support or glorify hatred and these items fall squarely into that category. With each new application of our policies, we strive to strike the right balance between creative freedom, Etsy's values, and establishing a safe and respectful marketplace for members. The challenge of defining and eliminating offensive items raises deep and complex issues—both philosophical and pragmatic—which we at Etsy wrestle with regularly. We strive to think about our site holistically and determine what is best for the entire community." (via Etsy)
- Google Shopping: "We have decided to remove content containing the Confederate flag from Google Shopping and Ads. We have determined that the Confederate flag violates our Ads policies, which don't allow content that's generally perceived as expressing hate toward a particular group." (via re/code)
- Walmart: "We never want to offend anyone with the products that we offer. We have taken steps to remove all items promoting the confederate flag from our assortment—whether in our stores or on our web site. We have a process in place to help lead us to the right decisions when it comes to the merchandise we sell. Still, at times, items make their way into our assortment improperly—this is one of those instances." (via CNN)
As momentum continues to build around banning the Confederate flag and public pressure creates real results, retailers should brace for criticism of other products people may deem offensive.
Follow Brian Greene on Twitter: @bw_greene