Amazon halts sales of Indian flag doormat after visa threat

Amazon.com (AMZN.O) removed doormats resembling the Indian tri-color flag from its Canadian website on Wednesday, after an Indian government threat to rescind visas of the U.S. company's employees if they did not stop selling the product.

"Amazon must tender unconditional apology," India's external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said on Twitter. "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," she added. "We will also rescind the Visas issued earlier."

The doormat, sold by a third-party on Amazon's Canadian portal, was taken down late on Wednesday.

"The item is no longer available for sale on the site," a spokeswoman for Amazon said in an email.

Amazon's portal in Canada sells doormats fashioned around other national flags, but under Indian law any desecration of its flag is punishable with fines and imprisonment.

Amazon's official support account on Twitter had earlier responded to angry user comments on Twitter by saying the mats were not being sold on their Indian portal and the concerns had been escalated.

Swaraj tweeted that she had asked the Indian High Commission in Canada to take up the issue with Amazon, after it was brought to her attention by a Twitter user from India's financial capital of Mumbai.

Swaraj is a prolific user of the social media website and often responds to tweets directed at her.

Amazon is making a huge bet on India and has vowed to invest more than $5 billion as it takes on home-grown Flipkart and Snapdeal for a bigger share of the world's fastest growing internet services market.

In an event attended by Indian premier Narendra Modi in Washington last year, Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos said India was the company's fastest growing region.

© REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson. An Amazon delivery truck is seen in Los Angeles

An Indian official threatened to take away visas from Amazon for selling Indian flag doormats

India’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, is publicly demanding Amazon stop selling Indian flag doormats, even threatening to take away visas given to Amazon employees if no action is taken.

Swaraj went on a Twitter tirade Wednesday morning, writing that Amazon must “tender unconditional apology” and withdraw the doormat products “insulting our national flag immediately.”

Her message seems to be aimed at Amazon Canada, which appeared to allow third-party sellers to list Indian flag-inspired doormats on its platform. A quick search on Amazon Canada no longer shows any Indian flag doormats.

Swaraj’s reaction may be in part due to India’s strict flag code. The official flag code of India states: “the Flag shall not be used as a portion of costume or uniform of any description nor shall it be embroidered or printed upon cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins or any dress material.”

Losing any portion of access to the Indian market could be a serious problem for Amazon. The Indian market is one of the fastest growing overseas markets for Amazon and the company recently pledged to invest up to $5 billion in the region.

Amazon’s representative wasn’t immediately available for comment.


Amazon removes Indian flag doormat after minister threatens visa ban

Amazon has been forced to remove a doormat depicting the Indian flag from its Canadian store after India’s top diplomat threatened to expel all foreign employees of the online retailer if it did not withdraw the product.

Sushma Swaraj, the country’s external affairs minister, used Twitter to demand Amazon “tender [an] unconditional apology” and “withdraw all products insulting our national flag immediately”, after another user alerted to the listings.

Amazon’s Canadian store offered a range of doormats depicting the Indian flag as well as those of other countries, including the US and the UK. The Indian flag doormats, sold by a third party, were taken down by the site on Wednesday.

A spokesman for Amazon said: “The item is no longer for sale on the site.”

Earlier, Swaraj had asked the Indian high commission in Canada to “take this up with Amazon at the highest level”. She added: “If this is not done forthwith, we will not grant [an] Indian visa to any Amazon official. We will also rescind the visas issued earlier.”

The 64-year-old minister, who has nearly seven million followers on the social network, has become well-known for her “Twitter diplomacy”, regularly responding to problems and questions tweeted at her by other users.

In August 2015, she helped to organise the release of an Indian woman who was allegedly being illegally held in a Dubai hotel room, after the woman’s brother tweeted at Swaraj for help.

Earlier that year she organised – and tweeted live updates about – an operation to rescue a group of Indians being detained in Iraq, after footage of them circulated online.

Amazon is aggressively trying to expand its Indian business, more than doubling its revenue in 2015-16 but also suffering deep losses as it chases market share from a homegrown rival, Flipkart. It has invested more than $5bn in India since 2014.

Flipkart and Ola, an Indian ride-sharing service, called in December for the government to enforce protectionist measures against Amazon and Uber.

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