Woolworths accused of discrimination over baby formula row

Woolworths accused of discrimination over baby formula row

The supermarket chain Woolworths is being accused of unfairly discriminating against customers over their online purchases of infant formula.

The supermarket chain Woolworths is being accused of unfairly discriminating against customers over their online purchases of infant formula.

Three Chinese-Australian customers are demanding an apology from Woolworths after their orders were apparently cancelled, and their accounts with the company suspended.

As Omar Dabbagh reports, it follows concerns baby formula being sent to China was fuelling a shortage of the product in Australia.

The claims by Sydney parents Adrien Cheng, Reginald Dong and Sarah Kong relate to what they say are separate incidents involving the supermarket chain, all occurring over the past month.

They are accusing Woolworths of cancelling their online orders for infant formula and suspending their customer accounts.

Lawyer Kingsley Liu says his clients believe they're being discriminated against.

"They think that it could possibly be on the basis of their names - all their names are Asian. The position that they're in is that they're disturbed about the response they've had from Woolworths, and the treatment that they think that they've got that they think it's unfair."

The complaint comes amid concerns of an infant formula milk shortage in Australia, which is -- in part -- being linked to a high demand for the product in China.

Last year, Woolworths limited its customers to purchases of four tins of baby formula per transaction, while rival Coles now only allows two tins.

Sarah Kong has lodged a complaint with the Human Rights Commission, while Mr Cheng and Mr Dong are receiving legal advice on how to proceed.

Lawyer Kingsley Liu says he is working on the cases pro-bono, and is seeking a response from Woolworths on their behalf.

"They would like to get an answer, and I think if the answer is the right sort of answer and it's transparent then I think that might settle the matter."

In a statement Woolworths has told SBS,"Orders are automatically flagged when they fit a pattern associated with breaching terms and conditions. Customer names are not checked."

Woolworths goes on to say, "We have seen multiple examples of customers trying to breach the limits we have in place in our stores. In some cases we suspend accounts pending a confirmation that the order fits within our terms and conditions."

The supermarket chain says online orders have, on occasion, been mistakenly cancelled.

"A very small proportion of orders that are cancelled subsequently turn out to be legitimate and those orders are reinstated. Woolworths apologises to those customers that are cancelled in error."

Kingsley Lie says his clients were ordering the formula within the rules set out by Woolworths, and have not had their accounts reinstated.

He does not believe his clients' heritage is irrelevant to the issue.

"It would seem, as I spoke to one of the clients today, it was a little surprising because she's got an IT background, that first of all that every time she got on and spoke to customer service they actually asked what was her order number, her name and address. So there is probably no way that they couldn't have known who they're talking with."

Erin Chew from the advocacy group, the Asian Australian Alliance, believes the cases reflect a broader issue.

"People make their own judgements. Obviously me personally I would feel that. I would feel that and I think in society as a whole there is a sense of xenophobia. Anything to do with Chinese or China there is that xenophobia anyway."


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