Shopping spree after supermarket race row

FLORENCE KERR
Last updated 09:00 15/07/2014
Rikki Cooper
PETER DRURY/ Fairfax NZ
RACIALLY PROFILED: Rikki Cooper felt the colour of her skin was behind the reason she was targeted by staff at Countdown’s Dinsdale supermarket in Hamilton.

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A pregnant woman publicly pinpointed as a potential shoplifter by a Hamilton supermarket, has been treated to a massive "we're sorry" shopping spree by the Countdown chain.

A female staff member at Countdown Dinsdale had accused Rikki Cooper of potentially being a shoplifter over the store's public address system, humiliating her and leaving her in tears.

Cooper last night filled three trolleys with $3345.56 worth of groceries at Hamilton central Countdown. She bought food for her household of seven, and stocked up on baby supplies for her baby, due in November.

Countdown Waikato area manager Karl Wareham said the shopping spree was a way of saying sorry, saying Countdown was at fault. She was allowed to choose the supermarket.

Cooper's treatment - seen as racial profiling - sparked outrage across New Zealand and a Facebook account set up to boycott the supermarket involved was nearing 500 likes this morning.

Cooper said she had been inundated with support.

"It has been amazing the support and messages we are getting from our family and people we don't even know. I just want to thank those that have sent kind words."

She had been overwhelmed by the number of people who have had similar experiences throughout New Zealand.

"I didn't realise how big the issue really is. Maybe something needs to be done to stop anyone else from having to go through this."

Countdown staff initially denied the incident had occurred.

Cherisse Martin, Cooper's mother, said her daughter rang her in tears after a female staff member tracked her movements in public over the speakers.

Cooper was described by staff as a "Maori girl" who needed to be watched.

Countdown general manager for operations Brett Ashley said he could not comment on Martin's treatment because it was an "employment issue".

"Countdown does not condone the actions of our team on this occasion, and we are undertaking an internal investigation."

Martin said after she received a call from her daughter she immediately got on the phone to Countdown Dinsdale. She was shocked by the tone the manager took.

"I said why on earth did this happen over an intercom? She [the staff member] said that the incident didn't happen; that she had been there all day and it did not happen.

Martin believed her daughter and was horrified at the lack of professionalism shown by the staff.

"I think anyone who has been in a situation where they have been followed, or stared at by staff of any store while trying to buy things will understand how unsettling this experience is."

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A female staff member using the store's intercom said: "Quick CCTV down aisle one; two Maori girls are down there."

Shortly after, she said: "The main one is the Maori girl with the big bag on her side."

Cooper continued shopping.

Then came: "The other Maori girl went down another aisle but the main Maori girl is still down aisle one."

Cooper said she surrendered her bag to be checked and revealed her pregnant bump after staff suspected her of putting store goods under her jersey. About four staff members laughed at her as she left the store, she said.

- Waikato Times

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