Retail giant Amazon was asked to make a "substantial donation" to a woman's refuge on Saturday night after its UK website offered T-shirts for sale promoting rape and violence against women. The T-shirts, which were also manufactured and sold in the U.S., included slogans were spun off the phrase, "Keep Calm and Carry On", a famous British propaganda slogan and included shirts that read: "Keep Calm and Hit Her", "Keep Calm and Rape a Lot" and "Keep Calm and Rape Them" for $23–$26.
By mid-morning Saturday, Amazon had received hundreds of angry complaints and removed the pages, but Harriet Harman, the shadow Culture Secretary who called on Amazon to make the donation, told The Independent that the decision to sell the merchandise was "absolutely outrageous" and that "Domestic violence and sex offenses are not something people should make money out of. [Amazon's] supposed to be a public company. My suggestion is they give all profits they made from it to a women's refuge." She also added that Amazon could make a "substantial donation" to End Violence Against Women and Women's Aid.
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On Saturday, Michael Fowler, the founder of Solid Gold Bomb, the Melbourne, Australia based company that produces the T-shirts in both the United States and Oxford, issued an apology on his company's website that in part read:
"No words can express how I feel about what has occurred and in no way do I condone or promote this serious issue. I will offer a more in depth explanation of cause to explain what and how this occurred. Both myself and our company and it's associated Solid Gold Bomb brand have never had any intention of the spread of violent slogans or even poor taste humor t-shirts. This was a computer error of my creation and I accept my responsibility in the matter."
Fowler further explained that the shirts were merely a result of a computer glitch, saying they were created by an “automated process” that “relied on both computer based dictionaries and online educational resources ie. verb lists” to generate a parody of “Keep Calm.”
“These were subsequently scripted to position themselves on t-shirts and the associated product data was derived simply from the product name and the 16 word combinations like ‘On’ and ‘Off’ and ‘Him’ or ‘Her’ and so forth,” wrote Fowler. “Near all of these combinations either work or don’t work and are certainly non-offensive such as ‘Dream On’ and ‘Dance Off’ and so forth.”
He also said "These items sat online and on non-indexed servers for the last year and myself and our company had no idea of the issue" and that “As a father, husband, brother and son, I would never promote such product in our company and it was clear to see this when looking across the millions of t-shirts that we offer or can produce on demand. Had these items ever sold, we would have immediately pulled the series and are doing so on our own and Amazon channels worldwide.”
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The company may have also had "no idea" that they sold other T-shirts that read: "Keep Calm and Knife Her," "Keep Calm and Choke Her," and "Keep Calm and Grope On."
Amazon.com did not return Shine's calls for comment but an Amazon UK spokesperson said that the "Keep Calm and Hit Her" T-shirts were "not available for sale." In addition, none of the other shirts in question were available by Sunday afternoon.
Solid Gold Bomb had also removed its Facebook and Twitter accounts but on Sunday a new page on Facebook called "Solid Gold Bomb Sucks" with an Amazon logo serving as its profile picture surfaced with 33 likes so far and calls for the public to boycott the brand.
Other critics are taking to Amazon's website and Twitter account posting messages such as "Advocating violence against women is unacceptable. This product perpetuates sexism and is absolutely despicable." The former labor deputy leader John Prescott tweeted: "First Amazon avoids paying UK tax. Now they're making money from domestic violence." And Sophie Bennett, the campaigns and policy officer for human rights organization Object said: "These T-shirts are not harmless fun. The are dangerous and intimidating. In promoting rape and normalizing abuse, they create a context in which violence against women is acceptable."
Whether Amazon will make things (somewhat) right with a donation remains to be seen.
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