A Government minister is calling for a “racism shake-up” across the retail sector after sharing her own experience of “racial profiling” at a Farmers store earlier this year.
Greens co-leader Marama Davidson’s comments come as Farmers has come under fire on its own Facebook page following a post it made about its investigation into a staff member reportedly calling a teen shopper “undesirable”.
Davidson has also publicly criticised Farmers on its Facebook page for the “telling” post, which she said, in her opinion, showed what its workplace culture was about.
The Rotorua Daily Post revealed last week 15-year-old Rotorua Girls’ High School student Aiomai Nuku-Tarawhiti was left devastated after she and her cousin, Shae Brown, 25, said they were approached by a staff member at Farmers at The Crossing in Tauranga.
The cousins said the staff member told them security had alerted her as it appeared they weren’t going to buy anything and could steal something from the shop.
The staff member told them to leave and told Aiomai she looked “undesirable”. They were told if they wanted to continue looking for items in the store, they would need to be followed by the staff member, the cousins said.
The incident, which the young women described as “racial profiling”, has resulted in a massive nationwide response and is now being investigated by Human Rights Commissioner Meng Foo.
Farmers posted on its Facebook page on Friday afternoon that it was “addressing the incident that took place” at the Tauriko store on Saturday, December 11.
The post said: “We take this matter very seriously and are working directly with the family and the Human Rights Commission. We would ask that you allow the parties to deal with this matter in a calm and respectful way”.
The post, as of Monday afternoon, had attracted 1700 comments, many of which were detailing similar stories of racial profiling – including many at other Farmers’ stores throughout New Zealand.
Among the comments were people saying the post was a “cop-out” and others called for shoppers to boycott Farmers.
One commenter said: “It would seem that Farmers do not know the meaning of calm and respectful. I will never shop at Farmers again. Ever.”
There were also hundreds of comments on earlier Farmers Facebook posts advertising stock, one said: “I will never purchase anything from this store again. This is disgusting and this really really hurts. It hurts to hear and it hurts to watch. Hearts are breaking everywhere. Front up and educate your staff.”
On a post about socks being a good “stocking stuff” this Christmas, someone posted: “You know what would make a great stocking stuffer Farmers? Coaching your staff and teaching them better customer service skills so people aren’t treated like potential criminals because of their skin colour. Meri Kirihimete! (this means Merry Christmas in #undesirable language).”
Davidson, who is Minister for the Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence, said she was the victim of racial profiling at a Farmers store at the start of the year when she went into the store wearing a cap and hoodie to buy small items for a party.
She said a staff member stood next to her in the aisle while she picked out what she wanted and followed her to the counter to make sure she paid.
She told the Rotorua Daily Post it begged the question: ”What would it take for wāhine Māori to not be seen as a thief?”
“This is not confined to any one store or even industry, although retail as a whole needs an anti-racism shake-up. This is so not a new thing for me or many others, it is what the country has allowed for far too long.”
Davidson commented on the post earlier this morning, saying instead of putting up a “holding message” that she believed minimised people’s “understandable rage at the violence of racism”, Farmers should have, in her view, immediately come out with a strong message against all discrimination and profiling practices.
Davidson’s post said: “Regardless of any investigation outcomes – that stance should already have been your immediate stance and would not have pre-empted any fair investigation process. So it is quite telling that you did not immediately come out to state very clearly what your own workplace culture is about. Wrong move.”
She described the public backlash as “amazing”.
“Right now a brave, heartfelt and powerful 15-year-old girl is leading the country in a long-overdue bit of reflection.”
Davidson expressed this opinion on her personal Facebook page: “Fix this Farmers! You’ve got lots of work to do to clean up this mess which isn’t just about a beautiful girl and her whānau. It is about the culture of your organisation since its entire existence! It’s also about what Aotearoa has allowed to happen on a wider scale, as evidenced by the outpouring of similar incidents across many generations and particularly in retail. We can all be actively anti-racist.”
Aiomai’s grandfather, Hone Tarawhiti, told the Rotorua Daily Post the whānau were humbled by the outpouring of support, love and gifts from New Zealanders.
He said among the offers of gifts and messages of support, there had been worldwide media attention and a musician written a song called “Undesirable” in Aiomai’s honour.
He said it was humbling it seemed the “entire country” had rallied behind Aiomai and Shae.”
He said the family would like to remain dignified throughout the process and did not want to make further comment about Farmers until the Human Rights Commission had completed its process.
“When we arrive at the table we will know we have followed all the right steps and we have complied.”
The Rotorua Daily Post has approached Farmers for comment.
In response to Davidson’s call for a racism shake-up among retailers, Retail NZ Greg Harford said New Zealand was a diverse and multicultural nation.
“The diversity of New Zealanders was reflected in those who worked in the retail sector, as well as in our customer base.
“Retail NZ wants to see diversity celebrated and supported that’s why we have a diversity pledge for our sector. It’s really important that everyone in New Zealand can visit retail and/or work in retail and feel both safe and respected. Retail NZ proactively reminds our members of the tools available to support diversity, and racism is never acceptable.”
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