Outraged shoppers pledge to flash-mob Kmart after staff member asked breastfeeding woman to cover up

Kmart has said it plans to apologise to a mother who was asked to “cover up” while breastfeeding in one of its Cairns stores, as shoppers plan a “flash mob” in protest of the incident.

Kmart Australia has confirmed to SmartCompany that “a situation” occurred at its Smithfield store over the weekend in which a customer who was breastfeeding was approached by a Kmart team member who made an “ill informed” decision to ask her to cover up.

“We were extremely concerned to learn of our customer’s experience and have asked that this mother contact us so we can apologise to her directly,” a spokesperson for Kmart said this morning, adding that the move is out of step with the store’s anti-discrimination policies.

Despite this assertion, shoppers have been outraged by the story, with shoppers launching a Facebook event for a “flash mob” to be held at the store to indicate customer support for a women’s right to breastfeed in stores and other establishments.

“This is NOT a witch hunt and was never intended to be. It is a gathering of people who wish to bring awareness to the fact that there is obviously a dire need for education as to the rights of a breastfeeding mother,” the organiser of the event has highlighted on Facebook.

Meanwhile, countless shoppers have responded to reports of the incident in Queensland media by going straight to Kmart’s social media channels and voicing their displeasure.

“SHAME SHAME SHAME,” said one shopper on Facebook when drawing attention to the incident, while a number of others highlighted that Kmart is a store often frequented by young families.

“As a Grandmother I find this kind of behaviour from your staff highly offensive,” wrote another online yesterday.

Kmart said in a statement it has also reached out to the Queensland branch of the National Breastfeeding Association to “to ask for assistance in helping our team members understand the needs of breastfeeding mothers”.

A disconnect between policies and staff  

Allan Briggs, a crisis communications expert at Briggs Communications, says situations like that at Kmart this week often come up when there is a disconnect between head office and those in stores.

“This comes back to giving clear guidelines to people. If they get in a situation [where they don’t know what to do], they should know where to go to get the answer,” Briggs says.

If a store team member is unsure about how to approach a certain situation, they should feel empowered to refer back to store policies and know how to find these, instead of only relying on their own judgment, Briggs says.

“There should be a portal or a policy where they can find that. It’s about the communicating quite clearly to staff that if they have something they’re not sure of, they can find that [information],” Briggs says.

In terms of reacting after the fact, Kmart’s approach of involving breastfeeding groups is a good reminder to go to the experts on these issues, Briggs says.

“That should have come first, but with [the National Breastfeeding Association], they’re subject matter experts in this,” Briggs says.

“These organisations have a broader reach to people who are impacted by these incidents, and they can communicate with them — give them the chance to give them challenges and concerns.”

Other businesses should take note of Kmart’s reaction to reach out to the experts, says Briggs.

“It shows that their consulting with people that have reached out in that audience,” he says.

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