The Body Shop responded to Stefen Chow’s claims of ‘racial abuse’ – and possibly made things worse

Photographer Stefen Chow with his prize-winning portrait of Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei.
The Straits Times

This article was updated at 15:20 on Nov 15 to include The Body Shop’s email to Mr Chow.

Photographer Stefen Chow’s Facebook rant against The Body Shop in Paris has struck a chord with Malaysian and Singaporean netizens who have left comments demanding an explanation from the British cosmetics brand.

Now the post, which has been shared over 700 times in just 24 hours, has also been noticed by The Body Shop’s social media team.

And after being told by Chow that private messaging was disabled on its Facebook page, a representative from The Body Shop reached out to him by e-mail.

In the email, The Body Shop said they were offering “sincerest apologies”, adding that an investigation would be done to “make sure it doesn’t happen again”.

“We are still working with our teams to understand exactly what happened in our store when you visited, but the bottom line is that you were made to feel uncomfortable while shopping with us, which is completely unacceptable,” a representative wrote.

The representative then offered him a full refund for his purchases at any The Body Shop outlet in France.

Unfortunately, Chow himself felt the apology was lacking and did not address the crux of the matter.

In his reply to The Body Shop, he pointed out that being racially profiled didn’t simply make him feel uncomfortable.

“I wasn’t simply made to feel uncomfortable. Walking in cold weather Paris with insufficient layers in uncomfortable.

“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,” he wrote.

He also indicated that he would not be returning to the brand’s French stores as he was already back in Beijing, where he is based. He ended his email by urging the company to complete a full investigation, review its security camera footage and review its employee guidelines.

And like him, many netizens expressed disappointment at the store’s reply.

“Poor response for such a big company,” wrote Facebook user Celine Wong.

Another netizen Sandra Lee agreed, writing: “The right thing to do would be to reimburse the money to your credit card, or send you a cheque if you paid cash. How difficult is that for them to do that?”

The Facebook account for the Rue de Rivoli outlet of The Body Shop had earlier left two comments under Chow’s original viral post, asking him to reach out to them with his contact details.

Both messages left by the account – posted within three hours of each other – had similar messages and asked for Chow to send a private message detailing his experience.

Although the brand said it wanted to apologise, its reply was deemed by many as insincere.

The situation seemed to have been made worse after Chow responded saying that he was unable to send the account a private message as the option was not enabled on their Facebook page.

Some netizens responded to this in anger. One comment by Facebook user Chen WS called The Body Shop’s actions “pathetic”, while several others said the brand should be ashamed of the way it was dealing with the situation.

One user identified as Glenn Jothy questioned if the staff were preying on customers and tourists so they could pocket extra cash.

“The racism factor is one thing. Judging by the blatant denial of the overcharging mistake from the day before, I’m just wondering whether this could also have been part of an elaborate cheating scheme by the staff acting in cahoots with one another to pocket loose change from unsuspecting customers particularly tourists who may not have the time to come back the next day to claim the money?” he wrote.

Some netizens also suggested that it could be a cultural issue, as many people said they had encountered rude sales staff in shops across Paris.

A comment left by Alan Chin read: “This isn’t about customer service, it’s about lying. Rudeness is de rigeur in France, we pay extra for that, ha ha. But nobody should be cheated. Period.”