Farmers tells family of Māori teen called 'undesirable' it doesn't think the incident was racist

  • 23/12/2021

Farmers has told the family of a Māori teenager called "undesirable" and asked to leave one of its stores that it doesn't believe the incident had anything to do with racism.

Aiomai Nuku-Tarawhiti, 15, and her cousin, Shae Brown, 25, were visiting a Farmers store in Tauranga's The Crossing to do some Christmas shopping earlier in December when they were approached by a staff member who told them to leave.

"She pointed at my cousin [Aiomai] and said, 'you look undesirable, I don't think you're going to buy anything and I will have to ask you to leave'," Brown told Newshub.

"We were in disbelief over what was happening to us… we walked out and once we got back to the car we were obviously upset - bawling our eyes out. My cousin was beside herself crying and shaking."

Pressure has been building on Farmers in recent weeks over its handling of the incident, with even Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson accusing the 112-year-old department store chain of minimising "people's understandable rage at the violence of racism".

Farmers had said it was investigating the incident and would be working alongside the family and the Human Rights Commission, but drew backlash after the public to "allow the parties to deal with this matter in a calm and respectful way".

Now, a Farmers representative has told the family it doesn't believe the incident to have been racially motivated.

"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," they wrote in a December 16 email to Aiomai's grandfather shared with the Rotorua Daily Post.

The email said Farmers was open to discussing the findings with the family, the Post reports, and suggested this be done with the Human Rights Commission mediating to help "enable us to understand each other's point of view and bring matters to a conclusion".

The email went on to raise concerns at the harassment a Farmers employee had received, "which seems to emanate from your supporters", and requested the family "take steps to encourage this behaviour to stop".

Hone Nuku-Tarawhiti, who received the email, told The Post the whānau had agreed to mediation but described Farmers' email as "upsetting" and "very disappointing".

He said the Farmers staffer who made the 'undesirable' remark was an adult and should have been properly trained and known the consequences of her actions.

A survey earlier this year found 93 percent of Māori experience racism daily. Most said they had been followed, watched, or asked to open their bags in a shop, and a quarter said they were followed by staff all of the time or often.