Amazon has withdrawn from its e-commerce website several children’s clothing items that display a sexually explicit message, following an investigation by CBC News.
Items sold by independent sellers included a dress, a T-shirt, a summer hat and sweatshirts that boldly displayed the message “I love c-k”, using heart-shaped emoticons. Sometimes the image of a rooster was replaced by the word “c – k”, which is another word for rooster and jargon for penis.
Product ads showed children modeling clothes.
“This is disgusting,” said Karolina Zikova of Chilliwack, BC, who last week alerted Amazon, CBC News and the Canadian Center for Child Protection to the problem after discovering one of the items while shopping on Amazon.ca.
“It could be related to pedophilia,” she said.
Following a request from the CBC, the Seattle-based e-commerce company removed the items.
“The bigger question is how does this kind of material affect their services in the first place?” said Signy Arnason, assistant executive director of the Canadian Center for Child Protection.
“It’s the normalization of children’s sexual commodification.”
‘Who buys these things?’
Zikova first discovered the items last Wednesday when she was looking for a swimsuit for her eight-year-old niece on Amazon. Then she came across an ad for a “girls’ sports swimsuit”, which showed a young girl in a white swimsuit with the message “I love c-k” several times.
“I was pretty shocked because the picture shows a girl who might be seven, eight years old,” she said. “How is it possible that someone is selling it, and who is buying those things?”
Zikova complained to Amazon, which removed the swimsuit from the site.
Concerned that Amazon might still be selling similar items, Zikova further searched the site the same day. This time, she was horrified when she found an ad for a baby hoodie with the same explicit message, modeled by a boy.
Zikova contacted Amazon using the online chat option, but this time she failed to remove the item.
According to the transcript of the online chat, the employee she spoke to did not understand the scope of Zikov’s complaint. After Zikova protested, the clerk said she would be contacted by someone from another department.
She said she hadn’t heard from Amazon until the next day, so she contacted CBC News.
“I was hoping that it would go public, so they would actually have to do something about it.”
Until then, Zikova discovered several other children’s items with the same message “I love c – k”. They included a “Christmas dress for girls” modeled by a young girl and advertised as “funny”.
“How funny is this?” she said.
In response to a CBC News inquiry that included links to children’s clothing, Amazon said Sunday that the items were violate the policy of offensive products and are removed.
“All resellers must follow our sales guidelines, and those who do not will be subject to action, including potentially removing their account,” a spokesman wrote in an email.
Amazon said that the employee with whom Zikova spoke, who did not respond to her concerns, did not follow the appropriate procedure and that the company is now providing additional training to customer support staff.
Amazon also said it has conducted a thorough investigation to ensure similar products do not remain on its site.
However, the next day, the Canadian Center for Child Protection told CBC News that a similar item is still available on Amazon’s Canadian site: a T-shirt for adults and children related to a sexual act that includes “dad” and “c-k.”
The organization said it notified Amazon of the T-shirt Monday morning.
CBC News contacted a third vendor, Khang Cò, who took off his T-shirt late Monday night.
“It is our fault when choosing a product,” a company spokesman wrote in an online message. “Thanks for letting me know.”
Amazon said Tuesday that it is now reviewing its product catalog for any similar lists it may have missed earlier.
Both Arnason, with the Child Protection Center, and Zikova said they want Amazon to adopt tighter controls to prevent similar articles from appearing on its site.
“You wouldn’t find a trader who could put [these items] in their window, “Arnason said.” They would be locked up, the police would be involved. “
Amazon said that its technology, as well as dedicated staff, constantly scans all products listed for sale in order to search and immediately remove those who violate its policies.
But CBC News has covered several cases in which Amazon has removed inappropriate items sold by third-party vendors, including Nazi accessoriesonly after the products have caused complaints.
Last year, an online retailer deleted the N-word from the product description black action figures and admitted to the CBC that his safeguards had failed to drive out racist expression.
Given the size of Amazon’s market, it would be difficult for the company to test each individual product, says retail analyst Alex Arifuzzaman.
Company offers hundreds of millions of itemsmany of the third-party vendors.
“It will never be perfect,” said Arifuzzaman, of InterStratics Consultants in Toronto. “There will always be, in a way, things going through the edges.”
Still, he said, Amazon needs to look for ways to improve its verification process.
“There has to be some kind of innovative solution,” Arifuzzaman said, such as forcing third-party vendors to sign an agreement guaranteeing that the products they sell are not offensive.
“And if it is, then there is some kind of punishment,” he said.