KUALA LUMPUR, April 1 ― Bata will redesign one of its school shoes that was cleared of claims that it featured the word “Allah” on its soles, despite already having lost RM500,000 due to the hoax.
Bata managing director Paolo Grassi said the company has stopped making the B-First school shoes and was changing the design to demonstrate the shoemaker’s understanding of local sensitivities.
“The Home Ministry's Al-Quran Printing, Control and Licensing Board has announced our old sole design has nothing to do with the word 'Allah' but we would like to take precaution by stopping its production.
“We have decided to change the design and it is expected to reach our customers by June,” he was quoted saying by local daily New Straits Times.
“We lost more than RM500,000 in four weeks after the allegation went viral,” he added.
The controversy started after the principal of Sekolah Agama Bandar Batu Pahat reportedly issued a letter dated February 8 claiming that Bata's B-First shoes contained the Arabic word for God on its soles and told students not to buy them.
The claim then spread online.
According to local daily The Star, Bata had recalled 70,000 pairs of the shoes from its 230 outlets nationwide and were only able to start selling them again after the Home Ministry gave its clearance on Thursday.
“That episode not only cost us to lose money, but our image suffered as well,” Grassi was quoted saying by The Star.
Expressing relief for being cleared by local authorities, Grassi said Bata will produce new mouldings for the shoes once existing stock is sold out this June.
“We have been cleared by the ministry. Should anyone continue to put Bata in a bad light after this, we will not hesitate to take legal action,” he said.
In a separate report by local daily Berita Harian, Grassi refuted a new rumour that sandals with the phrase “Ya Hayyun Ya Qayyum” are produced by Bata.
In another report by local daily Sin Chew Daily, Bata senior manager Datuk James Selvaraj said the school principal was happy to know that the company would not pursue legal action, while Grassi further proposed to send Bata vouchers to the principal.
Grassi said the planned changing of the design was of the company's own initiative.
“The company has been established in Malaysia since the 1930s, we understand Malaysia is a multicultural country and therefore has always been very respectful of all races, cultures, religious beliefs and political beliefs, and is very careful in designing products, won't provoke any sensitive issues, we hope by doing this we can increase consumers' confidence in our brand,” he was quoted saying.
On the RM500,000 loss, Grassi said the B-First shoe was one of the company's best-selling products with around 1,500 pairs sold weekly prior to the controversy, noting that the company also had to spend money in transporting and packing the shoes during the recall.
Unverified and oftentimes false claims of various products or brands being unfit for Muslims' consumption frequently surface online, with the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia's (Jakim) Halal Hub division regularly having to clarify that they are actually halal or permissible for Muslims.