The Oriental Trading Company just recently altered its website, such that their controversial product line "Soldier of God", which combines military paraphernalia with the Christian faith, is hidden from the public, while they actively sell the rest of their stock via call center orders.
Geri Michelic, OTC's Corporate Communications Manager, states "In an effort to best serve customer needs, Oriental Trading Company consistently reviews customer input and adds to or changes item selection. As part of this ongoing process, some Soldier of God items are being transitioned out of our product line but are available for current customer orders."
Previous to an article published by OpEdNews on May 23, 2007 entitled "Holy Warrior Toys Sell in America" which exposed the company's "Soldier of God" product line, OTC offered the 31 "Soldier of God" items for sale off of its website, as well as through their call center located in Omaha, Nebraska.
Many of the offensive items were stamped with crosses, crusader crests, images of swords and the "Soldier of God" slogan. Shortly after the first article's publication, the company made an unexpected maneuver.
User feedback suggests that OTC made superficial changes to their website's functionality as early as May 24, 2007 so that only 2 innocuous items were retrieved if a site visitor entered "Soldier of God". If specific items were queried, an image that read "No longer available" replaced actual images of the product line. Currently, all offensive items appear to have been removed from their online store, as if they never existed.
Immediately after the controversy was made public in "Holy Warrior Toys Sell in America", call center representatives at the company said that they had been given instructions not to take phone orders for the products. General inquiries into the call center confirmed that orders had been interrupted for less than a week, but had already resumed by Thursday, May 31.
For some, removal of the items from public view is not enough. In an online petition, one opponent of the "Soldier of God" product line, evangelical Christian, David Hoffman, Humanity Check coordinator comments, "I consider this toy product line and the message it conveys to children to be a blasphemous distortion and misuse of the sacred, compassionate message and ministry of Jesus." He urges OTC to completely discontinue what he sees as dangerously prejudicial and violence inducing business conduct.
The company is no stranger to controversy. In December 2006, OTC immediately pulled an ill-conceived piÃ±ata shaped as an army humvee that had cartoon soldiers pictured in the windows. A piÃ±ata is meant to be beaten with a stick until it falls apart.
"Our marketing team thought it might appeal to the military audience," said a supervisor at Oriental Trading Company according to a military.com report.
According to one call center representative at OTC the army humvee piÃ±ata item was pulled from the website and all sales of the item halted immediately after initial complaints in December 2006. Yet, while most interviewed felt that the "Soldier of God" items were just as offensive as the army humvee piÃ±ata, OTC's response to complaints about "Soldier of God" products has not been similar.
OTC refused to answer specific questions related to their conduct with regards to the controversial items.
The OTC has 18 million customers on file and mails 300 million catalogues annually. They are the largest national retailer of crafts, novelties, party supplies, offering more than 25,000 product SKUs.
In 2006, the same year the "Soldier of God" product line appeared, The Carlyle Group, the nation's eleventh-largest defense contractor, and a major arms exporter, purchased OTC from Brentwood Associates for $1 billion. Brentwood Associates retained a 25% stake in OTC.
The Carlyle Group, with revenues of more than $87 billion is top-heavy with ex-government officials, including a former President of The United States, a former Primer Minister of England, former Secretaries of State and Defense, diplomats and industry regulators. Among Carlyle's holdings are United Defense, maker of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and other weapons systems; Vought Aircraft, the world's largest supplier of commercial and military airline parts; Bofors Defense, a Swedish manufacturer of naval guns and other weapons; and a $50 million investment in 2002 in Conexant Systems, a spin-off from former defense giant Rockwell International, who themselves were absorbed by The Boeing Company, the second largest defense contractor in the United States.