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Turkey: CarrefourSA faces boycott calls after headscarf scandal
Istanbul, (Today's Zaman):
People have called for a boycott against CarrefourSA, a French retail chain that is cooperating with the Turkish Red Crescent (Kızılay) in a campaign to deliver food to those in need during Ramadan, after allegations of discrimination against a headscarved volunteer at a Kızılay booth inside one of its stores.
Facing harsh criticism by rights groups and the media, the company has claimed that the incident was an isolated case and that there is no institutional policy against headscarved women in their stores.
CarrefourSA, which operates in Turkey in partnership with Sabancı Holding, on Sunday reportedly demanded that a headscarved worker be prohibited from volunteering in a booth located on its store premises where aid packages were being collected. According to an agreement between the retailer and Kızılay, CarrefourSA prepares packages that include foodstuffs in its various stores, which are then sold to customers. Customers buy the packages and donate them to Kızılay, which has set up a booth inside the stores.
The Kızılay Ataşehir branch set up a booth inside the Kozyatağı CarrefourSA, which attracted great interest on Sunday. The 19-year-old volunteer, Elif Demirci, who is studying management at a university and works as a volunteer in the social services branch of the Turkish Red Crescent during the summer, arrived at the booth at around 10 a.m. After 30 minutes, she was told that she could not work there while wearing a headscarf.
After we began collecting packages, CarrefourSA personnel came to the booth and told me: You dont have permission to work here because of the headscarf. Remove your headscarf or leave, she said.
Shocked by what she heard, Demirci told them she would leave if necessary but would not remove her headscarf. Upon her response, she was told that as a headscarved woman she could shop in the store but could not work there while wearing a headscarf. She told the Yeni Şafak daily that she was really upset because of what she experienced in a Muslim country, being subject to such unacceptable treatment.
In response to the claims, Merter Özay, CarrefourSA institutional relations and law consultant, told the Yeni Şafak daily on Tuesday that on an institutional level they do not approve of such behavior, and the incident is an isolated case as the branch official acted independently.
He said CarrefourSA has never had such a company policy, claiming that in some stores there are headscarved employees. This is an individual initiative taken by officials there. I called Demirci, Turkish Red Crescent Ataşehir branch head Rahman Baki and Turkish Red Crescent General Director Ömer Taşlı to offer an apology on behalf of my company, he said.
The incident has sparked public outrage and spurred harsh debates in social media as many people have called for a boycott of CarrefourSA. After news of the incident appeared in the media, the Turkish Red Crescent executive board held an urgent meeting regarding the case. Turkish Red Crescent officials told the press that they will pursue the incident, saying that prejudice and offending someone because of her beliefs are unacceptable. In a released statement, the Turkish Red Crescent Ataşehir branch also condemned the discriminatory act and said it expects a public apology for Demirci.
Ahmet Faruk Ünsal, head of the Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed Peoples (MAZLUM-DER) told the Bugün daily on Tuesday that the incident is pure discrimination and hate speech. Some circles, who were spoiled by the atmosphere created by the Feb. 28 [1997 coup], still think these arbitrary practices can continue. However, that period is over in Turkey. We strongly condemn this, he said. Ahmet Ciğer, deputy head of the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON), said still talking about such issues today is absurd. When it comes to profit, they use peoples religious sensitivities. If they are really against religious practices, they shouldnt sell sacrificial animals on Eid al-Adha [Feast of the Sacrifice].
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