These days it’s easy for any company to suddenly find itself in the crosshairs of political warfare. Take formerly anonymous Canadian back-end e-commerce platform Shopify, which is under fire for providing services to hard-right nationalist site Breitbart.
Consumer watchdog organization SumOfUs today delivered a petition with more than 190,000 signatures to the Shopify headquarters in Ottawa. Shopify operates Breitbart’s online store, which sells merchandise with sayings like “Get in Line” emblazoned across an image of a map of the U.S. and “Border Wall Construction Company” in support of anti-immigration policies. Other items for sale include a hat with an image of a truck that says “Hate America? Then Get the Hell Out” and a doormat that reads “This Home is Protected by the Second Amendment.” The site is chaired by Steve Bannon, chief strategist to President Donald Trump.
“As it stands, Shopify is directly profiting off the message of Breitbart, which is white supremacy and racism,” said Emma Pullman, lead campaigner at SumOfUs. “It’s becoming more and more clear that companies can’t be neutral. There is no neutral right now.”
SumOfUs joins several other efforts that have percolated in recent months led by similar groups like Sleeping Giants who are calling upon not just advertisers, but also ad tech providers like Taboola and AppNexus to remove ties from Breitbart. Breakfast cereal maker Kellogg pulled its ads from the site in December, evoking the wrath of Breitbart which retaliated by launching its own boycott of Kellogg’s goods.
Pullman said Shopify is one of several companies her organization has lobbied against for ties to Breitbart, including Amazon and European airline Lufthansa. In recent weeks, she said SumOfUs has doubled down on Shopify, in hopes it will soon change its stance amid mounting pressure, particularly as Breitbart eyes global growth.
“In some ways, its relationship with Breitbart is more insidious because it runs the store that sells racist merchandise and directly gets a cut of those sales, and that revenue is helping to finance [Breitbart’s] expansion into Europe,” Pullman said.
In a statement, Shopify representative Samantha Tam reiterated the position asserted by Shopify co-founder Tobias Lütke earlier this month. In a Medium post, Lütke wrote that the decision to continue working with Breitbart was predicated on the protection of free speech.
“Shopify supports the rights of citizens to engage in free speech and peaceful protest,” Tam said. “Shopify is a platform that provides software to help businesses sell their products. The use of our platform by merchants is not an endorsement. Shopify does not endorse, fund or advertise with Breitbart.”
In his post, Lütke called Shopify an “unlikely defender of Breitbart’s right to sell products,” given his personal liberal leanings and immigrant status, but said the site’s ability to sell goods should be protected.
“We don’t like Breitbart, but products are speech and we are pro–free speech,” Lütke wrote. “This means protecting the right of organizations to use our platform even if they are unpopular or if we disagree with their premise, as long as they are within the law. That being said, if Breitbart calls us tomorrow and tells us that they are going to switch to another platform, we would be delighted.”
Pullman said she was surprised Shopify has yet to respond to swelling outcry against the company, adding that SumOfUs will continue to make hundreds of calls per day to Shopify centers around the world and encourage supporters to speak out on social media. She said there is also discussion of potentially collaborating with major brands that currently have Shopify stores, including Tesla, Red Bull and Budweiser, to create a united front against Shopify’s partnership with Breitbart.
“Tech companies like Google and Facebook have hate speech policies,” she said. “It’s not unreasonable to have Shopify do the same.”
A previous version of this article misidentified Samantha Tam. She is a Shopify representative, not head of public relations and communications.