Alibaba has followed western internet giants Google, Amazon, Wal-mart, Sears and eBay by pulling products that feature the confederate flag from their retail platforms. The move follows the debate flaring in the US over the use of the flag following last week’s shooting at a black church in South Carolina which saw nine people killed. 

While a most of Alibaba’s retail platforms are focussed on Chinese consumers, they also feature products made for distribution overseas.

“Alibaba Group prohibits listings of materials that are ethnically or racially offensive across its platforms. As such, we will be removing listings for flags, clothing and other memorabilia that display the Confederate flag imagery,” spokeswoman Rachel Chan told Reuters in an email.

While Alibaba platforms have historically been a hotbed for unapproved products, including fakes and forgeries, the company has become increasingly conscientious about the content of its retail platforms, especially since its US listing. 

Part of the reason may be because of its renewed focus on attracting foreign brands and retailers onto its Ali-branded payment system Alipay. At the end of last year it launched a foreign direct purchase system allowing Chinese consumers to buy directly from some of America’s largest department stores including Nieman Marcus, Macy’s, Bloomingdales and Sak’s Fifth Avenue. 

At the same time, it has made several new foreign investments across many verticals including retail, logistics and entertainment. This week Alibaba group announced they first investment in a foreign film, the next in the series of Paramount’s Mission Impossible series. 

Alibaba also made modifications to its platform recently in the wake of a lawsuit put forward by luxury retail brand Kering, which oversees many high-end brands including Yves Saint Laurent. Its the second complaint from Kering over counterfeit products. Days after the allegations, Alibaba revealed an investment in Visualead, an Israeli company making dotless visual codes to combat counterfeit products. 

Banning the confederate flag image is the latest evidence of Alibaba’s commitment to building a global strategic brand position.

Image credit: Alibaba

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Cate Cadell

Cate is a tech writer. She worked as a journalist in Australia, Mongolia and Myanmar. You can reach her (in Chinese or English) at: @catecadell or

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