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Jun 01 2011

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Aconex chairman in Hitler t-shirt row

Martin Hosking, chairman of Melbourne, Australia-based SaaS construction collaboration technology vendor Aconex, is also chairman of a totally separate online arts community, RedBubble (read his Wikipedia profile here). This has a sideline t-shirt operation which has become embroiled in a controversy about selling t-shirts with Hitler and Holocaust motifs.

The ‘Hipster Hitler’ controversy has now been simmering away for some weeks, and various Australian blogs and websites have started to take notice, including:

  • legal industry blog FirmSpy (reporting that RedBubble’s lawyers Arnold Bloch Leibler had ceased representing RedBubble because of its association with anti-semitic content)
  • J-wire – a Jewish online news website (which also reported the issue was being discussed with the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission, ADC, in Melbourne) – and YourJewishNews.com
  • online business websites StartupSmart and SmartCompany, and
  • news and gossip site Crikey

Of course, the story has almost no bearing on Aconex but the company’s name has been mentioned by people who have commented on Mr Hosking’s involvement and judgment, and most online comment is unsympathetic towards Mr Hosking’s defence of RedBubble. I also understand that some people have written to Aconex directors and shareholders. When I asked Aconex about the issue, I was told:

“We are aware that Martin Hosking’s role as non-executive chairman of Aconex is just one of his many business responsibilities.  We are not involved in any of his other business dealings, and therefore cannot comment on those.  We can say that as Aconex chairman, Martin’s work is well respected and highly valued.”

Aconex also referred to Mr Hosking’s comments to StartupSmart.com.au last week, ie: that RedBubble is currently in:

“productive and friendly discussions with a range of Australian-based Jewish organisations, including the ADC (the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission). Together we are working to craft a solution which balances the right to free expression against the legitimate restrictions on this. These discussions are ongoing and are drawing to a fruitful conclusion.”

This is the second time FirmSpy has figured in Aconex’s affairs, following the recent FirmSpy-stoked suggestions of conflicts of interest involving an Aconex director and its lawyers (see 10 March ExtranetEvolution post, and this 13 May FirmSpy update). A new post on FirmSpy today (1 June) also mentions Aconex and quotes both the t-shirt supplier and Martin Hosking discussing censorship.

Shareholder unrest

While it is a separate issue, I know at least one disaffected Aconex shareholder is using Mr Hosking’s current discomfort to resurrect leadership concerns aired at January’s EGM (post). I have been sent a copy of a letter sent to Aconex by a minority shareholder (which I reproduce on condition of anonymity) who writes:

“… it just reinforces the problems of Mr Hosking’s qualifications and business judgment or lack thereof and the inherent inconsistency between roles as CEO of a small online art/t-shirt business and Chairman of a larger construction software company.  However, Aconex’s poor financial results over the last several years and its continuing poor results, and Mr Hosking’s ultimate responsibility for the bad judgment that has caused these poor results, is a separate topic.  The relevant point here is that it damages Aconex to have its Chairman push the envelope on how pro-Hitler merchandise has to be before it becomes unacceptably offensive to sell. …”

Ouch!

Update (02 June 2011): … StartupSmart reports that online transaction provider PayPal is reviewing the RedBubble site following complaints, and [3 June] I understand MasterCard and Visa have also received complaints.

Update (06 June 2011): With adverse coverage of Aconex now extending to The Register (suggesting that shopping centre billionaire and Aconex shareholder John Gandel is among those putting pressure on the company), a terse, one-sentence blog post from Martin Hosking (‘Pilgrim’) tells the RedBubble community:

“Pending final outcome of our discussions with a range of organisations (including the Anti-Defamation Commission) we have decided to moderate a range of controversial work on the site related to portrayals of Hitler, the Holocaust and related events.”

Update (07 June 2011): The decision was subsequently reported by StartUpSmart, which also mentions Aconex:

Hosking refuses to comment on speculation that the board of Aconex … had put pressure on him to remove the Hipster Hitler merchandise.

… Hosking confirmed that the Aconex board had received the letter and was considering it independent of him.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2011/06/aconex-chairman-in-hitler-t-shirt-row/

19 comments

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  1. HJ

    It’s surprising the best Aconex can do is say that they “respect” this guy. Are they in some kind of denial? The t-shirts are described as “Neo-Nazi propaganda” in one publication you cite and as “pro-Hitler merchandise” by the lawyers who said they would no longer act for his company. One of the t-shirts says “Back to the Führer”, for goodness sake! Nice marketing fodder for Aconex’s competitors as to why not to choose Aconex software next time given Aconex’s “respect” for their Chairman who happens to produce these t-shirts.

  2. Anon

    I’m speechless at what he’s selling and who the market for these t-shirts must be. But much more speechless that Aconex seem prepared sit and watch him do it while he’s their Chairman.

    Max Mosely got out of his situation with a simple defence he repeated over and over “it was done in the privacy of someone else’s home”

    http://jalopnik.com/373884/f1-boss-max-mosley-caught-with-five-hookers-in-nazi-orgy-video-scandal

    There’s no sex involved here but there’s no defence of privacy either. The t-shirts are being sold to anyone who wants one. Aconex’s clients can log onto the Chairman’s t-shirt website or read these news stories about what he’s doing.

    Wow.

  3. Jeremy

    So the Chairman of Aconex cracks Holocaust “jokes” like “ARTSCHULE MACH FREI” or “DEATH CAMP FOR CUTIE” and puts them on t-shirts and sells them. Really, really off. Most people will be disgusted but I wonder how Jewish users of Aconex will feel about this.

    1. Paul Wilkinson

      Let’s be accurate here. Mr Hosking has not been cracking Holocaust “jokes” or putting them on t-shirts. He is the CEO of an online arts business enabling people to add selected artists’ images to t-shirts, and it is the designers of those images that have created and incorporated these slogans into their artwork.

  4. Ray

    Skimming through the links (have you ever posted so many links for one post?! maybe you thought we wouldn’t believe it if it was just one link and you might be right) , I agree with the thrust of nearly all the comments: selling this kind of merchandise is just not on. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first Nazi-related scandal for a major supplier to the construction industry for many a year, so props to you for breaking a big story that will probably get bigger now that you have brought it to light. Nazism has a special place for hatred for very good reason and presses people’s buttons.

  5. Jan Piller

    This story does not surprise me. I read an online interview with Hosking where he assumed Americans thought everybody coming out of Melbourne University was akin to coming out of Podunk University (Going Global on a Shoestring). His arrogance shocked me but it didn’t surprise me. I am an ex-redbubbler artist who protested against the Hitler t-shirts months ago (not weeks ago) and removed my work in protest. I found out a week later that in spite of deleting my work, it was still being sold. Hosking is quick to delete the posts and threads of anyone protesting these offensive t-shirts and the disgusting slogans readily available on baby’s and childrens t-shirts (“Ass – the New Vagina”) Seriously????? Yes – we have the screen shots. People have complained of these types of products for months now. Talk about poor judgment….. I think “NO” judgment is more apt.

  6. H M Bascom

    Highly informative article.

  7. Jan Piller

    Sorry – I should have left this link earlier – it’s in addtion to the FirmSpy article which points to further disattsifaction and discust with these t-shirts (and baby clothes)
    http://1stangel.co.uk/blog/2011/have-redbubble-gone-too-far/

  8. Kallena Kucers

    RedBubble is Mr. Hosking’s only other current business venture, aside from Aconex. His earlier internet venture, LookSmart, bankrupted. Will this become a familiar pattern for businesses in which Mr. Hosking is involved?

  9. Julie Langford

    While I agree that Mr Hosking’s business dealings with Aconex are completely seperate to his business dealings on Redbubble, what I think isn’t really important. What Aconex customers, and potential think about it is what is important.

    Some customers are happy to go with the best option for what service they need, without doing any kind of background investigation of a company, and many customers are not. It has everything to do with reputation by association. If Aconex are quite happy that their business will not be affected by the association to tshirt designs which are currently being investigated by ADC, via one of their directors, then that is their choice.

    Quite the gamble.

  10. Anon2

    Great story. Googled it and there is even more than what you have linked to.
    “Aconex + Hitler” gives
    “About 1,780 results (0.17 seconds)”

  11. HJ

    The situation with the Aconex Chairman’s company Red Bubble is being reported even less favourably in the UK press than in the links you have provided. This story’s headline in technology news The Register is “Red Bubble’s Nazi trouble” and there are a few new facts that make the situation sound worse.

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/06/03/lawyers_dump_redbubble_over_hitlerhipsters/

  12. Sophie

    Found this blog after reading this story

    http://www.thejc.com/news/world-news/49820/fashion-firm-offers-genocide-look

    If anyone is reading this, just wanted to say I find your “genocide” fashion wear repulsive and would be mortified if I ever met anyone wearing one of these t-shirts. Thankfully, I have never seen one in Sydney and I hope I never will.

  13. @Anon

    You got the Mosely story wrong.
    He only admitted the sex orgy part. He denied it was Nazi themed.
    He is still fighting about the privacy issue.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/former-f1-boss-max-mosley-applies-for-appeal-after-losing-privacy-case-at-european-court/2011/06/02/AGDsXTHH_story.html

  14. HJ

    The t-shirts have admirers. Right under “THE LATEST DAVID DUKE VIDEO” and “WHITE PRIDE ENTERPRISES PROJECT” a thread called “1941 – A RACE ODYSSEY”

    http://www.stormfront.org/forum/t806269/

    Words fail me as to how Aconex can support their Chairman who has been selling this product line for many months now, according to the reports, even if it is in a totally unrelated business.

  15. A.Sing

    Words fail me as well, that Martin Hosking would fight so hard to keep these T-shirts on his website till the bitter end. They clearly mock victims of the holocaust, and his failure to either understand this or admit to this, leaves one to wonder what exactly is he thinking?

    There were numerous members from his art site who protested for over 7 months to get these shirts off the site. He deduced and undermined these members by addressing them as “a vocal minority (or mob) leaving in ‘tens'”. Disrespect toward the same highly talented and well known members whom helped his site be as popular as it is today.

    Martin Hosking – I think many people would like to know if you will be offering an apology to those members who protested the hipster hitler shirts from day one, whom you referred to as ‘a vocal minority and mob, who are leaving in tens’. As if they are so insignificant and uncivil.

    Why don’t we take a trip down memory lane on Hosking’s long standing defense of Hipster Hitler, as well as all those who supported Martin Hosking and Hipster Hitler.

    Martin’s journal about “Free Speech”:
    http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:4wPNK6DwZncJ:www.redbubble.com/people/pilgrim/journal/6436105-redbubble-and-free-speech+redbubble+and+free+speech+pilgrim&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=ca&source=www.google.ca

    Hipster Hitler’s ‘copy and paste’ interview posted in his Redbubble journal:
    http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:Xzt3jzcLVFsJ:www.redbubble.com/people/hipsterhitler/journal/7191422-hipster-hitler-an-interview+hipster+hitler+redbubble+interview&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=ca&source=www.google.ca

    Martin Hosking- Do you also include the ADC and other Jewish organizations that investigated you as ‘a vocal minority or mob’?

    1. Paul Wilkinson

      In the interests of balance, I have just looked at the ADC website and its news release, which includes some quite conciliatory statements, eg:

      “[ADC chairman] Anton Block praised art t-shirt marketplace RedBubble … for their responsiveness in the face of offensive behaviour. … As a Jewish organisation we have a particular sensitivity to antisemitism and this led us to get in touch with RedBubble after a number of complaints about Hipster Hitler. … the ADC had held a productive meeting with RedBubble co-founder Martin Hosking and provided assistance in drawing up a community guidelines which ensured it respected survivors of violence and trauma, just as it has community guidelines on pornography and racism. RedBubble chose voluntarily to withdraw the Hipster Hitler line in response.

      “RedBubble has shown commercial interests don’t have to lack values and sensitivity to human experience….”

      1. Befuddled

        Yes the ADC gave him the very same arguments that his members had given him for months on end which he vehemently refused to address or consider. Hoskings had no choice but to be conciliatory – the press was all over him likes ants on a sugar cube. Just read Hoskings own journal . The removal of the shirts was not voluntary. He was “volunTOLD”.

  16. HJ

    He has stopped selling the Hitler t-shirts but his customers at Stormfront are not happy about it!

    http://www.stormfront.org/forum/t805343/

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