Netizens call out Shopee for usage of Myanmar protest icon for product promotion

Shopee has come under fire after product listings of a black t-shirt with the caption "Everything will be OK" were found on its platforms across Southeast Asia. The product was promoted with images of a Myanmar protester, Kyal Sin, who reportedly died wearing the shirt earlier in March, according to BBC. According to screenshots posted by netizens on Twitter, the listings were found in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Philippines. The products were shipped from Indonesia and China, per the netizen screenshots seen by MARKETING-INTERACTIVE.

The product listings have ignited the wrath of netizens, who took to Twitter to voice their displeasure. One netizen said it is unethical for Shopee to use the image of Kyal Sin to promote its products, since her sacrifice for the revolution is not a joke. Many other also chimed in accusing Shopee for using Myanmar's "fallen hero" for its own commercial benefits. The incident has also caught the attention of global news respondents such as May Wong from Channel NewsAsia and Freya Cole from BBC. Cole said in a separate tweet that Shopee has since clarified that the products were not sold by Shopee, and the team has removed the listings from its platforms "as soon as they were made aware of it". MARKETING-INTERACTIVE has reached out to Shopee for a statement.

A quick check from the MARKETING-INTERACTIVE team showed that there are currently no product listings of the "Everything will be OK" black t-shirt on Shopee's platforms across the various markets. Meanwhile, Lazada has listings of the same shirt for its Singapore and Malaysia markets, but the image of Kyal Sin was not used to promote the shirts. Amazon Singapore and Caoursell did not have listings of the shirt on their platforms at the time of writing. 

This is not the first time eCommerce companies got embroiled in a case involving offensive promotional pictures for their product listings. Earlier in January this year, both Shopee and Lazada were found to have merchants on its platforms promoting products such as binoculars and spy cameras with images of unknowing women being watched, insinuating that the products could be used to spy on females in their own homes or far away on a beach. There were also listings that promoted similar products using lewd images of the female anatomy. 

The images was used despite both Lazada and Shopee having strict guidelines asking sellers not to list illegal products, products meant for illicit purposes, or those that contain obscene, profanity, or sexual imagery. In a statement to MARKETING-INTERACTIVE then, a spokesperson from Shopee said it has a "zero-tolerance approach towards errant and offensive listings", and will not hesitate to take appropriate action against sellers who do not abide by its stipulated guidelines. It then reached out to the relevant sellers to issue a warning and removed the images on the affected listings. 

Last year in February, multiple F&B brands in Singapore were also called out for not taking a stand concerning the ongoing military coup happening in Myanmar. These brands include Tiger Beer, BreadTalk, and Ya Kun Kaya Toast. Graphics urging consumers to boycott Singaporean brands were circulated online, claiming that Singapore is the largest investor in Myanmar, and that the country “is not respecting the voices of the Burmese. Singapore is supporting the dictatorship”. 

Following the incident, the minister for foreign affairs Vivian Balakrishnan said that it is crucial, in both good and bad times, to separate politics and business, and "let businesses make commercial decisions and investment decisions on their own merits". He added that while Singapore is the largest foreign investor in Myanmar, with cumulative approved investments at US$24.1 billion as of December last year, the major proportion of the investments have occurred in the last five years under the National League for Democracy government.

(Photo courtesy: 123RF)

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