Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The policy of corporate desensitization

I was asked by a reader yesterday to chime in on the Hawaiian Safeway incident.

If you've not heard, a pregnant mother and her husband were arrested for shoplifting, their child taken from them overnight as a result.  The item they were accused of shoplifting?  Two deli sandwiches that they had eaten while shopping.  Two sandwiches that the woman claimed she forgot to pay for when she got the the check stand.

Here's the story if you haven't read it.

I have a few points to make on this one.

1.  Pregnant women forget things.  All.the.time.  It doesn't make them criminals.  Sure, she forgot to pay for the sandwich, but offered to pay cash immediately after they brought it to her attention in the parking lot.  The wrappers were still in the cart.  She didn't throw them away, there was no intent to hide the evidence made.  The store employees should have noticed the wrappers while she was checking out.

2. I'm completely grossed out by people that walk around grocery stores eating.  The produce testers annoy me too.  Buy the food first, then eat it.  And don't touch the cart with your nasty saliva covered hands.  Grocery carts are germ festivals on wheels.  Why anyone would want to eat while pushing one, I'll never understand.  But just because you are gross doesn't mean you are a shoplifter.

3. The store manager claimed that store (i.e. corporate) policy dictated that the customer accused of shoplifting could not attempt to pay for the merchandise in question when confronted.  The authorities are to be contacted immediately.  Really?  There is no room for discretion here?  One major tenet in our system is that someone is innocent until proven guilty.  If the accused immediately expressed that she "forgot" to pay for two items in a full cart and offered to pay, shouldn't she be given that chance?  Corporate policies exist to protect the store's bottom line only.  They do nothing to address individual situations, and this example is a blatantly obvious time where the policy failed.  The store manager didn't use discretion here presumably because his or her ass would be on the line with the higher ups if they caught wind of the story.  An unbending corporate policy here dictated the course of events.  Back in the day of the small town grocer, something like this happening could have tarnished the reputation of the store owner forever.  People made choices differently back then.  They treated people like people, capable of making mistakes.  They didn't automatically assume that every mistake was an intentional crime.

4. The woman and her husband should have never been arrested, obviously.  Yet they were.  And their little girl had to spend the night in state custody because of it.  That's perhaps the hardest part for me to digest.  In this wonderful world we live in, people are accused of far worse offenses than stealing sandwiches, but skate the system.  People who steal millions of dollars get probation and are forced to pay restitution, but may never see the inside of a jail cell.  But these people were locked up and had their child taken away for an alleged crime that they would never be found guilty of.

There are outcries in some circles to boycott Safeway because of this incident.  I'm not sure that would matter though, at least not if it was just contained to that chain.  Safeway, like everything anymore it seems, is run by corporate officers sitting in a high priced office somewhere far away from where decisions have to be made in a split second like this.  Their obsession with the bottom line negates the ability of their store managers to make choices about people.

This issue is larger than Safeway.

Corporations exist for one purpose only, to make money.

Corporations run this nation, in case you haven't noticed.

Corporations do not care about people.  They are legal fictions created to make rich people richer.  They don't care about hungry pregnant women and their children.  Never have, never will.

Not unless we make them care.

If you can figure out how to make that happen on a scale large enough to make a difference, maybe things will change.  Maybe.


  1. I disagree to an extent, they do CARE about this sort of thing when it gets attention. Safeway does not want bad press! And yes its because they care about their company and its success, which does include profits, thats why they are able to employ people.

  2. Yeah, that's about it...they care about bad press. Even then, as long as it doesn't hurt profits too much and they don't get dragged into some lawsuit, I'm sure they are fine. ;)

    People in this country have exceptionally short memories when it comes to things like this. It will be forgotten soon enough. Which, I'd argue, is part of the problem.


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