Farmers Tauranga incident: Company says unlikely there is any basis for allegations of racism

Farmers has told the family of a Rotorua teen it doesn’t consider there is likely to be any basis for allegations of racism relating to an incident involving her at one of its Tauranga stores.

Aiomai Nuku-Tarawhiti, 15, and cousin Shae Brown, 25, say they were the victims of “racial profiling” while shopping at Farmers at The Crossing on Saturday, December 11.

Farmers, in an email to Aiomai’s grandfather, said it was investigating, taking the allegations seriously, and working to finish the investigation ”as soon as possible”.

But the email also said Farmers did not consider there was likely to be any basis for the allegations of racism.

Hone Nuku-Tarawhiti, Aiomai’s grandfather, told the Rotorua Daily Post the email was, in his view, ”disappointing” and ”upsetting”.

Aiomai and Brown have received thousands of messages of support, including many from others who say they have experienced racial profiling, since going public with their story.

The incident, which left the cousins in tears, sparked Greens co-leader Marama Davidson to call for a “racism shake-up” across the retail sector – and has prompted a backlash on the Farmers Facebook page.

Aiomai and Brown were shopping in the perfume section unable to find the brand they wanted when they say they were approached by a staff member and asked to leave.

They said the staff member told them security had alerted her that the pair did not look like they were going to buy anything and could steal something.

The cousins said the staff member looked at Aiomai and told her she looked “undesirable” and told them if they remained in the store, the staff member would need to follow them while they shopped.

The cousins approached the store manager and the staff member shortly after the event where they said the staff member “lied” and claimed she never used the word “undesirable”, something which they said shocked and upset them deeply.

A Rotorua Daily Post video in which Aiomai breaks down crying while sharing her story has gone viral online and sparked outrage.

Farmers posted on its Facebook page last Friday, saying it took the matter seriously and was working directly with the family and Human Rights Commission. The post asked people to allow the parties to deal with the matter in a “calm and respectful way”.

The post had received more than 2100 comments as of Wednesday afternoon. Many were critical of Farmers.

Aiomai’s grandfather, Hone Nuku-Tarawhiti, has now shared with the Rotorua Daily Post the email he received from Farmers on December 16, which said the company had started an investigation straight away and was taking the allegations seriously.

The email, from a Farmers representative, said it was working to bring the internal investigation “to a conclusion as soon as possible”.

It said: “I can advise that on the information available to me so far, Farmers does not consider that there is likely to be any basis for the allegations of racism.”

The email said Farmers welcomed the opportunity to discuss its findings with the family and suggested this be done through Human Rights Commission mediation to help “enable us to understand each other’s point of view and bring matters to a conclusion”.

The email ended by saying: “I wish to raise that we are very concerned at the level of abuse and harassment directed towards [a Farmers employee] both verbally and on social media, which seems to emanate from your supporters. I respectfully request that you take steps to encourage this behaviour to stop.”

Hone Nuku-Tarawhiti said the whānau had been contacted by the Human Rights Commission yesterday and had agreed to mediation.

He said the whānau had not responded to what he described as the ”upsetting” Farmers email.

“The email, in my view, was very disappointing.”

Nuku-Tarawhiti said they were humbled by the support and “enormous love” not just from family and friends but from strangers.

He believed if the Farmers staff member had been trained in dealing with ages, genders and ethnicities, Farmers wouldn’t be in the “mess” it was now.

He said the staff member was an adult and he believed she should have known the consequences.

He said the whānau remained determined to follow process and stay strong.

He said the reaction sent a clear message it was not okay to racially profile customers.

“How people have reacted is genuine and part of reality. Our communities, our society no matter what race or culture Māori, Pakeha, Asian, European, we have a tolerance level, this incident has gone well above the level.

”My mokopuna are proud young Māori women and have every right to enjoy their lives … Though as a whānau we are deeply saddened, this is not the end.”

Brown said the incident still affected her, she was mentally drained, was having trouble sleeping and eating and her anxiety was “at an all-time high”.

“We have seen messages from the public on multiple posts regarding their own experiences … Our support is with them at this time. I hope our journey can provide closure for them.”

Farmers has been approached for comment.

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