New Delhi: Nitin Sethi, a journalist, has accused the Swedish furniture and home accessories giant IKEA of singling out him and his wife, Akoijam Sunita – who is from Manipur – by frisking them at a Hyderabad store and alleged that it exhibited racist behavior. The company, however, said that it doesn’t “frisk customers in the store at any point” and apologised for the incident.
Two days after posting about the incident on Twitter, Sethi Tuesday shot a six-page long open letter to the company’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) dissatisfied with IKEA’s initial response. In a fresh complaint, he has alleged the international firm of “racist treatment”, “bullying” and “influencing the police to harass them”.
Responding to the allegations, an IKEA representative, in an email to ThePrint, said it “deeply regrets” the “unpleasant experience called out by the customer”. However, the company said that it doesn’t “ frisk customers in the store at any point of the shopping journey”
“A thorough investigation has been conducted and without exception, we have followed the same process of checking the bill against articles for all customers who choose to self-scan and pay. This is to ensure there are no billing errors. Also, as part of safety and security protocol, we do not frisk customers in the store at any point of the shopping journey,” said IKEA’s lead – Consumer PR, Abhishek Jotwani.
Sunita, too, said that has left the couple even more “stressed”, when she had reacted to IKEA’s earlier response to the incident on Tuesday.
“We thought IKEAIndia will resolve the issue by doing the simple and civil thing, apologise sincerely for the mistake. But it was not to be. Their response to the incident has left us more stressed. We will move on but we will not be intimidated and gaslighted,” she said in a Twitter post.
What transpired at the IKEA store
On Sunday, the journalist, along with his wife and brother, was shopping at the store. At the check-out, according to Nitin, the staff on duty singled out his wife, who he claims is “easily identifiable by her features as a racial minority”.
“She was asked to stand aside with the goods she had purchased. The staff began to check each and every item pretentiously while we saw others before and around us going past with light or no checks,” Nitin wrote in his letter.
After the checking was done, he claimed the staff sarcastically said, “Oh, so you purchased all the items.”
When they protested against the “selective treatment”, he narrated that five men from the security “surrounded” them and “threateningly and menacingly” told them not to raise their voices.
Although the incident was recorded on CCTV cameras, Nitin believes that the staff was aware of the presence of cameras and pretended to be polite, meanwhile “hovering threateningly close” to them. They also told the trio “nothing wrong had been done” and that they “should leave”.
Nitin has also alleged that there was “no woman staff at any time” responding from Ikea during the entire incident.
‘Unnecessarily making a fuss’: Police
Soon, the police were called to the spot. The journalist claimed that the Hyderabad police were “unwilling” to come to the spot and were “delaying their arrival”.
In the letter, he wrote, “We called the police. Instead of arriving at the spot in time, we got repeat calls from a junior police official. From his tone it was evident that he was unwilling and delaying coming to the spot”.
He said they were “exhausted and harassed” and had decided to leave when they were called back to the store by the police.
Nitin also accused the policemen of being hand in glove with the security officials.
“The policeman dismissively told us he had already talked to the security bouncer and had been told no incident had occurred and we were unnecessarily making a fuss. Your security bouncer stood by the policeman arrogantly in a show of his influence and power”, wrote Nitin.
He said the police on site were not ready to take down their complaint. Nitin went on to say that the police told him to file the case at the police station only after they got to know that he was a journalist.
“Realising that we would not be intimidated, the two policemen beat a retreat saying we could go file a case, if we wanted to, by ourselves at the police station.”
At one point in the letter, Nitin says: “We were exasperated, harassed enough and stressed to our ends by now and decided to go back in the face of this abuse.”
Following the incident, IKEA issued a clarification over twitter on Monday saying, “As a process, customers who self-checkout are requested for a final check before leaving the store to ensure the billing is correct and customers do not face any problems regarding double charging, repeat scanning of products, etc.” The exchange with IKEA’s communications head
However, the complainants were not satisfied with IKEA’s response, following which Nitin put out the letter in the public domain.
In his letter, Nitin also mentioned the exchange he had with IKEA’s communications head where “she admitted that the practice of checking customers like this was used by IKEA only in India and no other countries that Ikea sells its products in.”
“She committed that the company would send a formal apology in private in writing and put it out in public as well,” he said, underlining that it hasn’t been done. “I have seen the shameless facetious explanation you have instead put out to justify the company’s actions,” the journalist hit out.
He also accused IKEA of working in India “like any other ordinary company trying to make a fast buck at least cost, while you make high claims of diversity etc here, abroad and in your boardrooms.”
Responding to Nitin’s initial allegations on Twitter, IKEA had condemned the incident and said it “deeply regretted” the experience.
The company said that it conducted a “thorough” investigation into the incident. IKEA wrote on Monday, “Hej (Hello), at IKEA, we believe that equality is a human right, and we condemn all forms of racism and prejudice. We regret the inconvenience caused to you while following the mandatory billing protocol.”