Unia calls statements by union chair ‘regrettable and stigmatising’

Summary

The office of equal opportunities has come out against remarks made by the chair of the NSZ union that people of foreign origin were more likely to steal

‘Everyday racism’

Unia, the federal office for equal opportunities, has criticised a statement by Christine Mattheeuws, president of self-employed union NSZ. Mattheeuws stated that it made sense that shopkeepers pay special attention to customers of foreign origin, as they were more likely to steal than others.

Mattheeuws was responding to the recent news that shop workers treat clients differently based on their gender and ethnic origin. The news was based on master’s research at the Free University of Brussels (VUB).

The study showed that retail staff are more vigilant in the presence of customers who are not white or who are of foreign origin. The head of the union said that statistics show that foreigners are more likely to steal, meaning keeping a closer eye on them was “good business”.

Gangs of shoplifters, she said, were mainly made up of men of foreign origin. “This has nothing to do with prejudice or discrimination, only with the facts” she told VRT radio.

This has set off a witch hunt against people of different origins,” said Unia director Els Keytsman (pictured). “These statements are regrettable and stigmatising. Where do these ideas come from? What figures are they based on?”

Mattheeuws also claimed that the research by VUB student Dounia Bourabain was influenced by being of immigrant origin herself. “As if someone who wears a headscarf is unable to carry out scientific research,” responded Keytsman.

She called on both NSZ and the retail sector to take the lesson of the thesis to heart by raising the awareness of shop staff to the “everyday racism” at work in the sector.

Photo courtesy Radio 1