Dear Mr. Bezos:
Congratulations. You seem to have weathered the Twitter storm relatively unscathed. Or so I assume, since we haven’t heard a peep from you.
You know what I’m talking about. The recent ruckus raised by the mental health Twitterati over shirts and other swag inciting suicide — or otherwise making light of very serious mental illnesses, such as anorexia and bulimia — being sold via your Amazon platform.
One would think “Keep Calm and Kill Yourself”, “Suicide Watch” and “got suicide?” are hardly the labels you’d want attached to your baby, the Amazon brand. Yet your silence persists.
I fully realize Amazon is, for all intents and purposes, a virtual shopping mall. You own the mall, but can’t be expected to know the full inventory of items on offer by the Mom-and-Pop shop tucked behind the escalators, between the washrooms and the food court. But you can do – and should have done – so much more.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m thankful that Amazon appears to have pulled most of the harmful merchandise from its online offering. Until they pop up again. And you know they will.
Here’s some advice on how you should have handled the matter – and how you may still yet do so. Not to save face. Not because it may or may not impact Amazon’s bottom line. But because it’s the right thing do:
- Get in front of the issue. Make a public statement on the matter, apologize to survivors of suicide loss and mental illness sufferers, and announce an immediate audit of the merchandise carried on Amazon with a view to identify products harmful to mental health.
- Reach out to national mental health organizations and lived experience advocates. Invite them to be part of the solution in identifying these harmful products, both during your audit and on an ongoing basis.
- Amend as needed Amazon’s Terms and Conditions. Make it painstakingly clear that Amazon will not stand for merchandise that promotes suicide, self-harm or in any way stigmatizes people living with mental illness. Back it up with penalties to show you mean business.
- Develop a monitoring and reporting system. Harmful products need to be identified and taken down from Amazon within 24 hrs. If you can ship and deliver items within this time frame, you can find a solution to removing harmful products within the same service standards. Drones not required.
- Play a leadership role in reducing mental illness stigma. Before we know it, Halloween will be right around the corner, which brings with it a plethora of costumes and decorations that stigmatize mental illness. Your voice in the retail industry matters, and would make a significant difference in tackling these issues.
One in five of Amazon’s customers will face a mental health issue or illness this year. Up to one-half over the course of their lifetime. We don’t expect perfection, but we do expect and deserve better.
Will you deliver better, Mr. Bezos? Or are mental health advocates expected to continue playing whack-a-mole every time harmful products rear their ugly heads on Amazon?
Here’s to hoping you’ll one day soon add the title “Stigma Fighter” to your business card.