Amazon has removed several children’s clothing items with a sexually explicit message from its e-commerce site, following an investigation by CBC News.
Items sold by third-party sellers included a dress, t-shirt, summer hat and hoodies with the bold message “I love c–k” and a heart emoji. Sometimes the image of a rooster replaced the word “c–k”, which is another word for cock and colloquially for penis.
Ads for the products featured children modeling the clothes.
“This is gross,” said Karolina Zikova of Chilliwack, BC, who alerted Amazon, CBC News and the Canadian Center for Child Protection to the issue last week after spotting one of the items while shopping on Amazon.ca.
“It can be linked to pedophilia,” she said.
Following a CBC request, the Seattle-based e-commerce company removed the items.
“The bigger question is how does this type of material even come into their service?” said Signy Arnason, deputy executive director of the Canadian Center for Child Protection.
“It normalizes children’s sexual commodification.”
“Who buys these things?”
Zikova first spotted the items last Wednesday while browsing Amazon for a swimsuit for her eight-year-old niece. That’s when she came across an ad for a “girl’s athletic swimsuit” that featured a young girl in a white swimsuit that repeatedly read “I love c–k.”
“I was pretty shocked because in the picture it’s a girl who’s maybe seven, eight years old,” she said. “How is it possible for someone to sell it, and who buys these things?”
Zikova complained to Amazon, after which the swimsuit was removed from the site.
Concerned that Amazon might still be selling similar items, Zikova continued to browse the site that same day. This time, she was dismayed to find an ad for a kids’ hoodie that featured the same explicit message modeled by a young boy.
Zikova contacted Amazon using the online chat option, but this time she was unsuccessful in removing the item.
According to the online chat log, the employee she spoke to did not appear to understand the scope of Zikova’s complaint. After Zikova protested, the employee said someone from another department would contact her.
She said she didn’t hear from Amazon until the next day, so she contacted CBC News.
“I was hoping that … it would go public, so they actually have to do something about it.”
By this time, Zikova had spotted several other children’s items bearing the same “I love c–k” message. These included a “girl’s Christmas dress” modeled by a young girl and marketed as “funny”.
“How’s that funny?” She said.
In response to a request from CBC News that included links to children’s clothing, Amazon said on Sunday the items violated the offensive product policy and were removed.
“All sellers are required to follow our selling policies, and those who don’t are required to take action, including possible removal of their account,” a spokesman wrote in an email.
Amazon said the employee Zikova spoke to who did not address her concerns did not follow due process and the company is now offering additional training for customer service representatives.
Amazon also said it conducted a thorough investigation to ensure no similar products remain on its site.
However, the following day, the Canadian Center for Child Protection told CBC News that a similar item was also available on Amazon’s Canadian website: a T-shirt for adults and children commemorating a sexual act with “Daddy” and “c – -k.”
The organization said it informed Amazon about the T-shirt on Monday morning.
CBC News contacted third party vendor Khang Cò, who removed the t-shirt late Monday night.
“It is our fault in choosing the product,” a company spokesman wrote in an online message. “Thank you for the information.”
Amazon said Tuesday it is now reviewing its product catalog for similar offers that it may have previously missed.
Both Arnason, with the Child Protection Center, and Zikova said they wanted Amazon to introduce stricter controls to prevent similar items from appearing on its site.
“You wouldn’t find a retailer that would be able to bet [these items] in her window,” Arnason said. “They would be closed, the police would be involved.”
Amazon said its technology and dedicated employees constantly scan all products for sale to find and immediately remove those that violate its policies.
However, CBC News has covered multiple cases in which Amazon has removed inappropriate items sold by third-party sellers. including Nazi paraphernaliaonly after the products had caused complaints.
In the past year, the online retailer deleted the N-word from a product description a black action figure and admitted to CBC that their security procedures could not filter out the racist term.
Given the size of the Amazon marketplace, it would be difficult for the company to review every single product, according to retail analyst Alex Arifuzzaman.
The company offers hundreds of millions of items, many of them from third-party sellers.
“It’s never going to be perfect,” said Arifuzzaman of Toronto-based InterStratics Consultants. “There’s always going to be something like things seeping through the margins there.”
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. B. Requiring third-party suppliers to sign an agreement guaranteeing that the products they sell are not offensive.
“And if so, then there’s some kind of punishment,” he said.