UPDATED: A case of race? Apple Store refuses to sell iPhone, iPad to Iranian customers

Macworld Australia Staff
26 June, 2012
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Did Apple employees at a store in Alpharetta, Georgia in the US refuse to sell an iPhone and an iPad to Farsi-speaking customers because they said they would send the devices to a friend based in Iran?

That’s what happened, according to customer Sarah Sabet, a US citizen of Iranian heritage, who made the controversial allegations to US TV station WSB-TV, describing the experience as “very hurtful” and constituting as “discrimination”.

Sabet, a 19-year-old student at the University of Georgia, visited an Apple Store in a local shopping centre with a friend to buy an iPhone and iPad.

But reportedly after Apple Store employees overheard Sabet and her friend conversing in Farsi, they asked the pair what language they were speaking, where they were from and to what location the devices would be going. When Sabet told the staff that the iDevices were a present for a friend in Iran, the Apple Store refused to process the sale.

“When we said ‘Farsi, I’m from Iran,’ he said, ‘I just can’t sell this to you. Our countries have bad relations,’” Sabet told WSB-TV.

The TV station sent a reporter to talk to a manager at the Apple Store, who denied Sabet’s claims of prejudice, saying the store had denied the sale because of  limitations on US-Iranian trade relations. As outlined in Apple’s export policy, the “exportation, re-exportation, sale or supply” of Apple products “is strictly prohibited without prior authorisation by the US Government.”

Sabet, however, rebuked the store’s defense, maintaining that the incident was a result of racial prejudice:

“He didn’t have any business asking me what country I was from,” Sabet said. “I actually walked out in tears.”

Following the incident, Sabet called an Apple customer service agent, who apologised and told Sabet she would be able to buy the devices via company’s website.

Last week, the Council on American-Islamic Relations labelled the Apple Store’s treatment of Sabet as discriminatory.

“Apple must revise its policies to ensure that customers do not face discriminatory treatment based on their religion, ethnicity or national origin,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad.

“If the actions of these Apple employees reflected company policy, that policy must be changed and all employees retrained.”

Apple is yet to make a comment on the matter.

UPDATE: The incident of an Apple Store in Georgia, US refusing to sell equipment to two Farsi-speaking customers has attracted international media interest since it was first reported by a local TV station.

The Iranian news agency and Al-Jazeera also picked up the story, expressing outrage at the incident and reporting other alleged cases of discrimination from Apple Stores towards Iranian customers.

While Apple did not directly address the incident, it did issue a statement to Al Jazeera, to outline the following:

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


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