We’ve already heard enough about driving while Black, racial profiling and stop and frisk. But does discrimination even extend to shopping while Black? Indeed it does, alleges a report by the Center For Popular Democracy, a labor advocacy group. The group says that their recent report indicates that Zara discriminates against Black shoppers by targeting them as potential theft risks.
The union-backed group secured the participation of 251 of the approximately 1,500 Zara store workers in Manhattan, describing the chosen respondents as a “random sample.” Zara’s corporate powers that be did not participate in the survey — in fact, they refute the findings, calling the report “baseless.”
Among the study’s claims: black customers are far more likely to be targeted as potential thieves than white customers.
The report describes a practice within Zara of referring to suspected shoplifters as “special orders,” leading to the racial profiling of black shoppers as soon as they enter the store.
“Most employees broadly defined the term ‘special order’ as a code that is used when someone ‘suspicious’ — ‘a potential thief’ —walks into the store,” reads the study. “Once a ‘special order’ has been called and the customer is described over the headset, employees and managers follow that customer.”
Forty-three percent of the Zara workers surveyed did not answer questions referring to ‘special orders’ or said they were unfamiliar with the term. Of the 57% who did respond, however, 46% claimed black customers were called special orders ‘always’ or ‘often’, compared with 14% of Latino shoppers and 7% whites.
“The majority of employees believe that Black customers are coded as potential thieves at a higher rate than white customers,” it reads. “Employees stated that special orders are identified by ‘dressing a certain way’ and are ‘mostly African-American.’ Special orders were also defined as ‘Anyone who looks Black, not put together or urban.’”
The Center noted that racial profiling in retail settings is nothing new, describing suspicion and discrimination as part of the experience of ‘Shopping While Black’. “This prejudice stands despite the fact that whites represent 68% of the adult arrests for larceny-theft,” reads the report, citing FBI data.
In 2013, New York department stores Macy’s M +0.9% and Barneys came under fire from the state attorney general after African-American shoppers alleged they were unfairly questioned for credit card fraud after making pricey purchases.
At the time, Rev. Al Sharpton met with Barneys CEO Mark Lee to talk about ways to end a practice the civil rights activist dubbed “shop and frisk.” Both Barneys and Macy’s settled these cases in 2014.
The Center study also found dissatisfaction among Zara workers themselves on the topic of racial discrimination. Per the report’s findings:
· Black employees are more than twice as dissatisfied with their hours as white employees.
· Darker-skinned employees report that they are least likely to be promoted.
· Employees of color state that they are reviewed with harsher scrutiny from management than white American and European employees.
· Of workers surveyed in the lower prestige back-of-store roles, 68 percent have darker skin.
Of those surveyed, 54% self-identified as Latino, 23.5% as black and 13.5% as white, with far smaller percentages of Asian and mixed-race workers represented.
A spokesperson for Zara USA condemned the report and questioned the Center’s motives, saying in a statement:
“Zara USA vehemently refutes the findings of the Center for Popular Democracy report which was published without any attempt to contact the company. The baseless report was prepared with ulterior motives and not because of any actual discrimination or mistreatment. It makes assertions that cannot be supported and do not reflect Zara’s diverse workforce.”