Amazon has had no shortage of controversy in recent months, from its employees’ working conditions to CEO Jeff Bezos’s billion-dollar profiteering off the pandemic.
But its most recent controversy centers on something far simpler but arguably even more shocking: A pair of shoes the listing for which uses the n-word in its description.
The shoes captured attention after a Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom, Labour Party politician David Lammy, tweeted a screenshot of the shoes’ listing on Amazon’s site with a strongly worded message for the retailer:
At first glance, the Amazon listing that Lammy included in his tweet seems like any other, until you come to the shoes’ color description: “Ni**er-Brown.”
As Lammy’s tweet gained more and more attention, Amazon was of course forced to respond. They removed the listing from their site, and issued a statement.
“All sellers must follow our selling guidelines and those who do not will be subject to action including potential removal of their account. The product in question is no longer available.”
But Lammy was dissatisfied, especially since, as he pointed out, the listing had been up for nearly six months.
Thank you @amazon for taking this down now but given the item has been on sale since March what systems do you have in place for reviewing descriptions and not allowing offensive terms to be posted in the first place? This is not the first time.
— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) August 3, 2020
Indeed, this isn’t the first incidence of he n-word being used in online product descriptions.
According to reporting by The Independent, there have been a number of products made in China and sold in English-language markets, like the shoes Lammy saw, that have used the n-word as a color descriptor.
In 2007, a Canadian family noticed the word on a tag on a new sofa they bought. And in 2017, Walmart was forced to apologize after selling a Chinese-made wig cap that used the word in its description.
But many online agreed with Lammy and were outraged that Amazon failed to keep such an offensive term out of its listings.
They could easily stop this by automatically rejecting product submissions with offensive words.
— avocadoprincess (@avocadoprincipe) August 3, 2020
Yes. How hard is it to blacklist a racial slur? @AmazonUK
— SB (@bookishmuslim) August 3, 2020
Come on. Any modern day online system has filters in place for offensive words. It's unbelievable Amazon has not put one in place. If they do, then clearly they didn't consider racially offensive words such as this . Leaving us to do work they should have done
— Cyrus Lemonius (@chriscyrus10) August 4, 2020
OMFG… how awful.
I’ve not heard that used as a clothing/shoe colour description for over forty years.
Good for you, David, to make us aware of this.
— ⚫ Kaz Alexander #NHSLove (@WarphobblerKaz) August 4, 2020
😳😳😳😳 Absolutely appalling. Amazon knows exactly every trick in the book to get us to buy things, but they cant spot words like this? Unbelievable.
— Aboud Dandachi (@abouddandachi) August 3, 2020
If they don't have a keyword filter for product descriptions and titles, that's a choice in 2020. That isn't an accident.
— A Gilded Eye 🌈 (@AGildedEye) August 4, 2020
It is truly amazing in this day and age that any company would use such a term to describe the colour of a product! I am gobsmacked. Well done for taking action.
— Judy Mainwaring (@pictureworks) August 4, 2020
Oh wow, how has it been there for that long and not been reported.
— hannah potter (@Potter2Hannah) August 4, 2020
What on earth is going on here, absolute disgrace https://t.co/2NljYq4Khx
— Nat🏴🇯🇲 (@nat90HJ) August 4, 2020
Quite right @DavidLammy.
Last week there were face masks with the image of Hitler and swastika on sale. Seriously.
And this of course wasn’t the first time we @HolocaustUK have raised issues of inappropriate items on sale on their site.
Do better @amazon https://t.co/uYnrTknSQL
— Karen Pollock (@KarenPollock100) August 4, 2020
As for the company that manufactured the shoes, they said the offensive description was due to a translation software error.