Equality guidance for retailers
The Equality Commission has circulated guidance to retail businesses about their legal position under equality law, when offering products for sale which may be more associated with one community in Northern Ireland than the other.
The Commission has been contacted by a number of retailers with requests for advice related mainly to merchandise connected with this year’s Royal Jubilee Celebrations or the Olympic Games and which may show Union Flag decorations or red, white and blue colours more generally. The Commission has also received queries about displays marking St. Patrick’s Day, as well as the use of the Irish language at store checkouts and on some signage in shops.
Concerns were raised as to whether such displays in a store would amount to unlawful religious or political discrimination against a shopper who claims it offends him or her. Queries have also been raised as to whether the absence of such a display in one store would amount to unlawful discrimination against a shopper, who knows that the display is available in another store owned by the same company in a different location.
“In the Commission’s view, so long as the decisions to market and sell such products are made on normal commercial grounds alone, and the relevant stores are otherwise open and welcoming to all persons, then a complaint of religious or political discrimination based solely on the branding or display of particular products is unlikely to be successful,” Ms. McKee said.
“The Commission has always recommended that employers work to ensure that their premises are a welcoming and harmonious space for their workers and customers alike. This means a space in which people are encouraged to be, and are, respectful and tolerant of all cultures and identities. We recognise the sensitivity for employers in dealing with these matters,” she added, “and if further guidance is required, retailers should contact the Commission’s Advice and Compliance Division.”
“Retailers are running highly competitive businesses and decisions about what products to stock and sell in stores and how to promote them are focused on meeting customer demand and generating sales,” Jacqui McKee, Director of Advice and Compliance in the Equality Commission said. “These are legitimate factors that retailers are entitled to take into account when making commercial decisions. Ultimately it is a matter for shoppers to choose where they will shop and which products they will purchase, and retailers will generally have a good commercial sense of what will sell based on local knowledge.”