Saturday, October 24, 2009

Multinational retailer apologizes after store in China accused of disability discrimination

From Xinhua in China:

BEIJING -- Multinational retailer Parkson Oct. 22 offered an apology on its website after one of its department stores in central China was accused of discriminating against disabled people.

The Malaysia-headquartered chain posted an open letter on its Chinese website, saying the company "deeply regretted" an incident in which its Nanchang outlet denied entry to a wheelchair-bound woman two weeks ago.

The apology came two days after two domestic organizations representing disabled people staged a small-scale protest in front of a Parkson store in Beijing.

But the groups, Beijing One Plus One Cultural Exchange Center (BOPOCEC) and China-Dolls Care and Support Association (CDCSA), said Thursday that the apology was far from enough to address the harm done to the disabled.

"We think Parkson should openly acknowledge its mistreatment of the lady and apologize via the press. We're not making a storm in a teacup. We hope this incident will increase public respect for the disabled," Xie Yan, spokesman of BOPOCEC, told Xinhua.

On Oct. 8, a woman surnamed Zhang and her 80-year-old mother were denied entry to a Parkson store in Nanchang, capital of Jiangxi Province.

A security guard reportedly told Zhang that the order was made out of concern for her mother's safety. The guard also insisted that he was just obeying the rules of the store.

Although it was not because of disability, but old age that Zhang's mother used the wheelchair, the incident was widely seen as a result of unfair treatment of the disabled.

A photo circulated on the Internet showing a sign of wheelchair-bound person was next to three signs that prohibit smoking, drinking and the entry of pet dogs, which are displayed on the store window.

Protestors also claimed the stickers prohibited blind people from entering, and they put four cutouts of human figures -- two in wheelchairs and two holding sticks -- at the entrance of the Fuxingmen outlet in Beijing on Tuesday. The figures carried a Chinese message that translated as "You pretend I don't exist." The peaceful protest lasted less than half an hour.

A store manager apologized four days after the incident, but this failed to allay public outrage in China where 83 million of 1.3 billion people suffer from disability.

The two groups said they wanted to remind people of the existence of the disabled and their right to equality.

"It is serious discrimination against disabled people. What happened in Nanchang was against the principle of respect and equality for disabled people," said an open letter to Parkson from the two groups.

Wu Liheng, Parkson's publicity director, admitted the incident showed the company needed to further improve the education of its employees.

But she argued that Parkson, which has been operational in 28 major Chinese cities since 1994, did have strict policies protecting the interests of the disabled.

Parkson promised to train all employees in China to improve the service.

Xie Yan, a physically disabled man living in Beijing, said he had often felt isolated and treated differently from able-bodied people, even though much progress had been made to help access for the disabled.

"We're not demanding extra care. I just hope the public can respect us and treat us equally," he said.