A post by Singapore-raised photographer Stefen Chow has gone viral on Facebook after he claimed to have been racially abused by the staff at an outlet of The Body Shop in Paris, France.
In a post that was published on Tuesday (14 November), Chow, who was in the country on a personal trip, had gone to an outlet on Sunday (12 November) at 68 Rue de Rivoli to purchase two items. Later, Chow noticed that the staff had overcharged him by €5 (S$8).
Since he had paid via credit card, the staff were unable to give him a refund without the presence of a manager, who was absent. The staff, who Chow described as “courteous” then asked him to return the following day.
“I was about to forget the 5 euros. It wouldn’t affect my day if I lost 5 euros. However, this was in principle the shop’s responsibility, so I went back the next day,” said the 37-year-old.
However, Chow found himself in a bizarre situation when he returned to the store the next day. The same staff member from the previous day – who Chow identified as Dembele – had seemingly forgotten about overcharging him, and the assistant manager – known as Dorothy – refused to give him the refund. She instead highlighted the fact that the item he bought were already discounted.
“I was taken aback because I wasn’t expecting an argument. I explained that yes, there was a discount over the items, but I am still overcharged 5 euros – this was clear to me and the staff the day before, that’s why I was asked to come back,” he said.
Dembele had then threatened to contact the police, claiming that he was “abusing” them, and Chow seemed taken aback by Dorothy’s next gesture.
“The assistant manager then wanted to know my details, to know who I am. When I told her I live in Beijing, China (even though I am from Malaysia), she rolled her eyes and gave an audible sigh,” said Chow, who was born in Malaysia and raised in Singapore.
“I walked away, feeling embarrassed, angry and confused. As I was feeling calmer, I realised at no point the manager offered any form of compromise,” Chow concluded in his post, which has now gotten over 2,000 shares and nearly 1,000 comments, mostly bashing the beauty brand.
The post has gotten the attention of The Body Shop’s communications team in France, who reached out to Chow via the comments section of the post before corresponding with him via email.
“We’re distressed to hear that a customer has felt uncomfortable in a The Body Shop store. Stefen Chow, we are looking forward receiving your message to speak further about this situation,” they said.
Via email, the brand offered Chow a full refund at any of their outlets in France. However, Chow had already returned to Beijing by the time he had received the email.
Referring to The Body Shop’s comment on Facebook, it seemed that the brand had misunderstood his actual feelings about the incident. Instead of being made to feel “uncomfortable”, Chow clarified to them that he was “racially profiled“.
In Chow’s email reply, he said, “Being racially profiled, and threatened with police after I was asked to return for a refund of 5 euros due to a miscalculation on the shop’s part isn’t mere discomfort. It was downright humiliating and a fundamental breakdown between customer and consumer relationship.”
“I have lost my confidence in the brand Body Shop and I will no longer patronise your shops,” he continued. Chow had also suggested that the company make a full investigation on the incident and review their employee guidelines.
Chow is an established photographer whose works have garnered awards from the World Press Photo, National Geographic and the International Photo Awards. He is also the co-founder of “The Poverty Line”, a global visual project that contextualises poverty.
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