Why Amazon’s ‘Slavery Gets S**t Done’ Fiasco Will Happen Again

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The difficulties of policing megashopping platforms are once again in the spotlight.

Following backlash from customers as well as anti-slavery organizations, Amazon this week pulled a line of children’s clothes displaying the slogan “Slavery gets s**t done.”

“All Marketplace sellers must follow our selling guidelines, and those who don’t will be subject to action including potential removal of their account,” a spokesperson for Amazon said of the gaffe. “The products in question are no longer available.”

Although the e-tailer appeared to act swiftly to remove the offensive wares following public outcry, the fact that the products made their way to the website in the first place illuminates a huge challenge with large digital shopping spaces.

In July 2017, Walmart found itself in a similar circumstance when a third-party seller used a racial slur in a product description on the site. Like Amazon, Walmart moved quickly to ditch the problematic merchandise and made sure to note that the product was posted on its site by an unaffiliated third-party seller.

In an email exchange with Footwear News today, an Amazon spokesperson also pointed to the company’s policy for “offensive products,” which notes that the listing of “products that promote or glorify hatred, violence, racial, sexual or religious intolerance or promote organizations with such views” is prohibited.

But are they?

If an offensive product — or description — can bypass internal checks and balances and be widely distributed on the largest online platform in the U.S. for an unspecified length of time and is removed only after a major public outcry, then one could argue that Amazon’s “offensive products” measure is largely ineffective. (The same would be true of Walmart.)

Still, in both retailers’ defense, policing unauthorized and third-party sellers online is incredibly complicated. What’s more, the pervasive proliferation of offensive — and inauthentic — merchandise on the internet could be a direct consequence of the rapid growth of digital — as well as consumers’ sense of urgency around having immediate access to an endless aisle of whatever they want, whenever they want. (Fast fashion, anyone?)

Is quality control becoming one of the things that retail corporations forfeit in favor of keeping up with the frantic pace of today’s consumer, i.e. “getting s**t done”?