Apple Responds To Anti-Farsi Bias Charge, More Cases Emerging: NIAC

  on June 22 2012 12:56 PM
Apple Store
Applesauce might be on the menu if Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) doesn't take swift actions to ameliorate members of a coalition representing Iranian-Americans and speakers of Farsi who were allegedly denied sale of iPads and other merchandise by Apple store employees in recent weeks. Reuters

Days after allegations of racial profiling by Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) employees against Farsi-speaking customers at Apple Stores, the company issued a statement Friday saying it doesn't discriminate against anyone but failed to address accusations of specific incidents at its Atlanta-area stores.

Meanwhile, Jamal Abdi, the policy director of the National Iranian American Council, or NIAC, told the Al-Jazeera news agency it received reports of similar incidents at other Apple stores. The U.S. State Department denied there were any laws prohibiting sales of Apple products to Farsi speakers or Iranians legally in the U.S.

The Cupertino, Calif., company issued a brief, general statement to Al-Jazeera on Friday.

Our retail stores are proud to serve customers from around the world of every ethnicity. Our teams are multilingual, and diversity is an important part of our culture. We don't discriminate against anyone, Apple's statement said.

Apple didn't explicitly say it hires Farsi speakers to work in its retail stores, nor issue a statement regarding the specific alleged incidents, its policy on enforcing the Iranian embargo or whether it will change employee training. 

Apple hasn't issued any sort of statement about whether or not their policy is to racially profile Iranian-Americans or people of Iranian decent in order to enforce the sanctions regulations, Abdi said in response to Apple's statement. The way that the employee seems to have arrived at this decision seems to be based on ethnic profiling.

Abdi said that the NIAC is hearing reports of similar incidents of Farsi speakers, Iranian-Americans and Iranians here legally on visas being denied sale at other Apple stores. Apple hasn't issued any directive stating that denying sale to Farsi speakers or Iranians legally in the U.S. is not company policy.

The embargo against Iran doesn't apply to U.S. companies selling their products in the U.S. to individuals intending to use those products here.

There's absolutely no U.S. law that would prohibit Apple or any other company from selling its product in the United States to anyone intending to use their product in the United States, including Iranians or Persian speakers, State Department representative  Noel Clay said Friday.

Apple appeared to be setting its own standard to enforce export control regulations.

The NIAC on Thursday joined the Council of American-Islamic Relations in denouncing Apple and asserted that Apple store employees who've refused to sell iPads and other products to customers speaking Farsi have been clearly engaging in racial profiling.

Referring to U.S. sanctions against Iran over the nuclear issue, the NIAC alleged that Apple stores are overzealously enforcing the sanctions, which do not prohibit the sale of products to Iranian-Americans or Iranian visa holders in the United States and accused employees of singling out Persian speakers for interrogation about how they intend to use Apple products ... clearly engaging in racial profiling.

On Wednesday, NIAC published an open letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook decrying the practice.

The Iranian-American community is deeply concerned and outraged that Apple employees at different Apple stores have repeatedly refused to sell products to customers solely on the basis of their Persian ethnicity, the letter from NIAC President Dr. Trita Parsi said.

The letter calls on Cook to immediately intervene to improve the training of Apple store employees to ensure such discrimination does not continue.

Council of American-Islamic Relations representative Ibrahim Hooper confirmed Thursday his group had contacted Apple about the allegations. There was no word about whether those talks have been successful.

The Permanent Iranian Mission to the U.N. in New York declined comment.

An employee of the North Point Mall Apple store in Alpharetta, Ga., where the incident allegedly took place, said employees weren't authorized to speak to the press.

CAIR said it knows of another case in which customers were refused service in Apple stores because they spoke Farsi. CAIR is investigating others.

One woman, a U.S. citizen and University of Georgia student, said an Apple employee refused to sell her an iPad [last] Thursday after hearing her and a relative talking, the CAIR statement said. An Apple store manager reportedly cited a policy prohibiting sales to Iran.

When we said, 'Farsi, I'm from Iran,' he said, 'I just can't sell this to you. Our countries have bad relations,' the woman, Sahar Sabet, said according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. The store's manager later showed a local TV channel a copy of Apple's policy, which prohibits the export, sale or supply of Apple products to Iran without explicit government approval.

An Apple representative reportedly later apologized to Sabet and told her she could buy the iPad through the company's online store. Apple maintains 363 retail stores in 13 countries.

Apple must revise its policies to ensure that customers do not face discriminatory treatment based on their religion, ethnicity or national origin. If the actions of these Apple employees reflected company policy, that policy must be changed and all employees retrained, CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said.

Awad noted that not selling embargoed items like iPads or laptops to Farsi speakers would be like not selling the same items to Spanish speakers because they might be from Cuba.

In that case, the individual in question was an Iranian student in the U.S. on a student visa, according to a note on Export Law Blog. Export laws may prohibit the transfer of technology to Iranian citizens regardless of their visa status. Export Law Blog noted that because of an oddity of export law, iPads, iPhones and MacBooks aren't among those items.

Apple is free to sell them away to Iranians in the United States unless, of course, it has reason to believe that the Iranian is going to ship the goods back to Iran, Export Law Blog said.

NIAC asserted similarly that while U.S. sanctions on Iran prohibit the export of products to Iran or to people who plan on exporting them to Iran, U.S. sanctions laws do not prohibit the sale of products to Iranian-Americans or Iranian visa holders in the United States.

However, NIAC stated in its Thursday analysis that sending an iPhone to Iran is illegal, even as a gift, despite the ready availability of illegally imported phones in the embargoed nation. Likewise, it would be illegal for an Iranian student moving back to Iran to return with the iPhone.

Apple shares rose $4.43 to cents to $582.10 in Friday trading.

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