The row between Amazon and the Indian government over the e-commerce giant’s Canadian portal selling doormats resembling the Indian tricolour flag, was escalated right to the top, to CEO Jeff Bezos, according to India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.
“Our Embassy in Washington D.C., and our High Commission in Ottawa raised the matter strongly with the senior leadership in Amazon in their respective territories and the matter was escalated to the level of Mr. Jeff Bezos, Chairman & CEO, Amazon. Within 24 hours, the listed products were taken down by Amazon,” Ms Swaraj said in a written response to a question in the Rajya Sabha (the upper house of the Parliament) last week.
The doormats were being sold by a third party and the matter was brought to the notice of the minister on January 11 by a Twitter user from Mumbai. Ms Swaraj who is very active on micro-blogging site Twitter had taken to the social media platform to send out a barrage of tweets to Amazon. She warned the Seattle-based company that if it did not withdraw the product immediately, the Indian government would stop issuing visas to its employees and also rescind the ones already issued.
“Amazon must tender unconditional apology. They must withdraw all products insulting our national flag immediately. If this is not done forthwith, we will not grant Indian Visa to any Amazon official. We will also rescind the Visas issued earlier,” she had said.
Soon after, the product was taken down by Amazon. India is an extremely important market for Amazon. In an event attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Washington last year, Bezos had said that India was the company’s fastest growing region. Bezos had also vowed to take up Amazon’s investments in India to $5 billion.
Amazon’s Canada portal sells doormats fashioned around other national flags as well. However, under the Indian law, desecration of the tricolour is a punishable offence with fines and even imprisonment.
“Amazon India has conveyed that it is fully committed to respecting Indian laws and customs and has strengthened their in-house compliance units – the Restrictive and Offensive Teams, which monitor products uploaded by third-party vendors on Amazon market platforms,” Ms Swaraj said in the written response.
Amazon has also informed the Indian government that adherence to The Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act, 1950 and the Indian Flag Code are now an integral part of their global compliance software, the minister added.
Section 3 of The Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act, 1950 prohibits the use of certain emblems and names including the Indian national flag, for the purpose of trade without the government’s prior permission.
Amazon entered the Indian market in 2013 and has been locked in a pitched battle with local rivals Flipkart (started in 2007) and Snapdeal (2010) for a bigger share of what is the world’s fastest growing internet services market.
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Disclosure: FactorDaily is owned by SourceCode Media, which counts Accel Partners, Blume Ventures and Vijay Shekhar Sharma among its investors. Accel Partners is an early investor in Flipkart. Vijay Shekhar Sharma is the founder of Paytm. None of FactorDaily’s investors have any influence on its reporting about India’s technology and startup ecosystem.