China Bullies Amazon over ‘Coronavirus Made in China’ T-Shirt

Amazon Employee, Warehouse
Ross D. Franklin/AP

The Chinese government on Friday tried using its “sharp power” to push online retail colossus Amazon into withdrawing a T-shirt that reads “Coronavirus Made in China” and apologize for ever allowing the garment to be sold.

China’s state-run Global Times pulled out the same playbook used successfully against foreign airline companies, hotel chains, and retail outlets in the past, claiming the T-shirt inspired a wave of public outrage that threatens to wash the multi-billion-dollar corporation away:

Amazon is receiving public scorn once again for selling offensive items on its retail platform. The US online retail behemoth has angered many Chinese consumers after they discovered t-shirts and coffee mugs featuring the slogan “Coronavirus made in China” were being sold on the platform. If Amazon doesn’t want to stand against their Chinese consumers, the company should apologize and punish vendors for selling such items.

Although the items in question were not being sold by the company but by platform vendors, Amazon still deserves to be criticized. Listing products with offensive coronavirus slogans exposes the platform’s lack of vendor supervision.

The online company should identify its supervision flaws to avoid social and political issues. Chinese netizens called for an Amazon boycott last year after it was discovered that vendors were selling t-shirts featuring slogans like “Free Hong Kong, Democracy Now” in support of the violent protests in Hong Kong. It is clear Amazon has yet to learn anything, nor has it bothered to make management improvements.

With Amazon allowing vendors to sell items on its platform that feature an offensive slogan about the coronavirus, it could serve a blow to the company’s reputation for having a laid-back and playful mindset on a virus that has claimed over 2,000 lives in China. 

We would like to believe that Amazon doesn’t want to be known as unsympathetic because of its poor supervisory flaws.

Another famed online store, eBay, began removing coronavirus merchandise last week on the grounds that it violated company policies against items that “portray, glorify, or attempt to profit from human tragedy or suffering, or that are insensitive to victims of such events.” 

Many of the items banned by eBay were T-shirts that made fun of the epidemic by comparing the coronavirus to Corona beer, mocked the notion of visiting the outbreak city of Wuhan for fun, or treated surviving the disease as a comical achievement on par with beating a videogame.

In the course of reporting the eBay bans, the UK Daily Mail noted Amazon still allowed the sale of coronavirus merchandise.

Fox Business noted in late January that merchandise satirically referring to the Wuhan virus was appearing on Amazon, eBay, and Etsy, including T-shirts like those described above and items like surgical masks with phony designer logos from fashion houses like Gucci. A brisk trade in actual protective gear was also reported, with prices skyrocketing for the most popular item, medical masks.

Australia’s ABC News on Friday found more examples of profiteering, including books filled with dubious information about the coronavirus and products that made highly questionable claims of offering protection.

ABC found coronavirus merchandise high on Google Shopping lists, including at least one item that would probably enrage the Chinese government much more than the rather bland T-shirt it wants Amazon to stop selling:

One seller, who the website says is based in Turkey, will sell you a coronavirus mason jar — with a decal that says “#coronavirus” over an image of a world map wearing a Chinese flag face mask.

And instead of five golden stars, the flag shows five yellow viruses.

Merchants defended their wares to ABC by pointing to their free speech rights and arguing that “distasteful” humorous items are not “hate speech” or fraudulent efforts to mislead people about the epidemic. ABC countered by noting some countries, including Australia, have as-yet untested laws that could hold online sales platforms responsible for selling products that are deemed unethical.

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