In a sign that businesses are turning sour on the Confederate flag, Walmart announced Monday that it would stop selling all Confederate flag merchandise from its stores and website, the first in what is likely to be a string of businesses speaking out against the so-called "Stars and Bars."
“We never want to offend anyone with the products that we offer. We have taken steps to remove all items promoting the Confederate flag from our assortment — whether in our stores or on our web site,” Walmart spokesman Brian Nick told CNN.
The Charleston, S.C., shooting, in which a suspect with ties to white supremacists who has appeared in photos holding the Confederate flag, killed nine black parishioners at a historically black Charleston church last Wednesday, has reignited the debate over the flag's symbolism.
For some, it's a symbol of Southern heritage. But for many others, the Confederate flag represents the slave-holding South, a symbol that the recent shooting in Charleston has now made toxic.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said Monday that the flag should be removed from the state capitol, where it has flown since 1961, calling it a "deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past."
The business community, which historically has been reticent on social issues, has also spoken out against the Confederate flag, suggesting corporations like Walmart are now more comfortable voicing their opinions.
"CEOs were once reluctant to wade into public debates on social issues, avoiding controversial topics like gun control, gay rights and same-sex marriage. But more and more are now doing so, perhaps because of the ease of speaking out on social media or the realization that customers and employees increasingly care about a corporation's values," the Washington Post reported Monday.
With its decision to remove Confederate flags and related merchandise from its shelves and website, Walmart, the world's largest retailer with nearly 11,000 stores in 28 countries and a corporate presence in the deep south of Bentonville, Arkansas, quickly distanced itself from the flag and its symbolism.
Sears and Kmart have followed suit, saying they would remove all third-party sales of Confederate flag merchandise from their websites.
And a number of CEOs across the country have taken up the cause on social media.
Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, took to Twitter Saturday to call for the flag to be taken down at the South Carolina capitol.
Apple CEO Tim Cook encouraged his followers to honor the victims by "eradicating racism & removing the symbols & words that feed it."
Microsoft's Satya Nadella also weighed in.
Even flag manufacturers have voiced concerns about whether they will continue to make Confederate flags.
"We don't want to cause someone continued pain because what it represents," said Reggie Vanden Bosch, president of the Flag Manufacturers Association of America in Wayne, Pa, told CNN Money. "We'll definitely spend time as an industry group discussing that."
But some in corporate America, including Amazon, have remained silent on the issue - so far.
Despite an "offensive material policy" which bans the sale of items that "promote hatred or racial supremacy including historic and current items, online auction giant eBay has listed the Confederate flag and items which feature the flag for sale on its site, according to CNN.
Johnna Hoff, an eBay spokesperson, told the cable news channel Tuesday that the auction site has determined that the Confederate flag has "become a contemporary symbol of divisiveness and racism." It is banning the sale of Confederate flags and "many items containing this image."