A local magistrate and a consumer rights advocate warn businesses about taking matters into their own hands
Local businesses reportedly losing thousands of dollars to theft every year are taking crime prevention into their own hands, turning to social media to shame alleged shoplifters and thieves.
But a consumer rights activist has condemned the practice, while a member of the judiciary has warned businesses that they could find themselves in trouble with the law if they continue this course of action.
Operators of Sky Mall recently published a series of photographs on their Facebook page, showing a male who “compromised the safety” of one of their valued customers by removing a bag from the establishment. So far, the image has recorded more than 300 shares.
The company offered a reward of $500 to anyone who could identify the man.
However, when contacted by Barbados TODAY, operations director of NSR Limited –– the co-operators of Sky Mall –– Everet Eastmond, declined to comment.
Barbados TODAY understands that another business also engaged in similar tactics, going as far as publishing a picture of a woman, with her name printed on it, claiming that she stole a pair of $10 earrings.
While some merchandisers feel they have to take such action because they are at their wits’ end, a consumer rights activist who spoke on condition of anonymity cried shame on this scheme.
She said it was totally wrong and urged consumers to come together, educate themselves and defend their rights.
“There are other stores in town [putting up pictures in their establishments] . . . but it has never gone to this level. Now to take it to this level is even more atrocious. I don’t think anybody should be shamed, because if we do face shaming, the [number] of people who wouldn’t be able to walk into offices in Barbados would be too many. My thing is, I don’t agree with the face shaming, if you haven’t been able to charge that person and especially if you aren’t [the] police . . . it could never be right,” she insisted.
While admitting that most shoplifters were people known to the courts, the consumer rights watchdog reiterated that this measuree was still not the right course of action.
“There is a procedure to do everything. I don’t think that anybody should go and take up what is not theirs either; so you need to find the balance. In order to correct that, you cannot do it to one person because there are plenty other persons who do it. We have tourists every day that come here to steal and not only steal from town but the hotels –– they have every trick in the book. But we wouldn’t put them there because we think they bring the foreign exchange for us to spend; it is a bigger picture. As consumers we must be a united front and be educated first. There is too much fear among consumers –– it is a cultural thing.”
Barbados TODAY also tried reaching the director general of the Barbados Consumers Research Organization, Malcolm Gibbs-Taitt, but with no success.
However, speaking to the matter, Magistrate Douglas Frederick told Barbados TODAY that these same businesses who published information and images of alleged shoplifters could find themselves hauled before the law courts if they continued with this practice.
He warned them to cease and desist since such a practice could potentially be defamatory.
“Certainly if the person is a shoplifter, truth is the best defence . . . . If they make the mistake and put somebody who is not [a thief], then the person can sue,” Frederick said.
He said that most times when businesses displayed images of thieves in their buildings, these were people who usually already had been convicted of shoplifting. However, to display an image of an alleged shoplifter, especially before that individual is convicted of any crime, that person had all rights to sue the proprieter.
“The same rules that apply to the newspaper apply to social media because the Computers Misuse Act states that that is a publication as well. Therefore, if somebody publishes something on social media, they are liable to the same strictures that would be in place in relation to the hard newspapers,” the magistrate added.