By Gordon Deegan
Boots Retail (Ireland) has been ordered to pay €700 compensation to an Algerian Muslim man living here after it queried why he was purchasing a bottle of hydrogen peroxide.
In high concentrations, hydrogen peroxide can be used as an ingredient in explosives and Riadh Mahmoudi has successfully claimed at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) that he was discriminated against when questioned about the purchase of the product with a low concentration at an un-named Boots store here.
Mr Mahmoudi said that he was seen as a suspicious customer by Boots Ireland because of the colour of his skin and his beard - a claim denied by Boots Ireland.
Boots Ireland stated that it was bound by law and its own procedures to question Mr Mahmoudi as hydrogen peroxide is listed by the EU as an explosive precursor.
In her ruling, WRC Adjudication Officer, Marian Duffy found that Mr Mahmoudi was discriminated against on the grounds of race as the EU regulations apply to hydrogen peroxide with concentrations levels of 12% or more and the hydrogen peroxide Mr Mahmoudi was seeking to purchase had concentration levels of 6%.
Ms Duffy said that a guidance document from the Government’s Inspector of Explosives does state that EU regulations apply to all explosive precursors not matter the volume but the document is not law.
She said: “Therefore, it was not necessary to ask the questions as, it could not have been a suspicious transaction as defined in the regulations.”
He said that when seeking out the items at his local Boots store, a staff member asked him why he was purchasing hydrogen peroxide - a substance that is present in a lot of products such as nail varnish.
Mr Mahmoudi said that he felt he was put on the spot and he said he was using it for first aid and he was using it for other things such as cleaning.
The assistant then went to speak to another member of staff and Mr Mahmoudi said that he felt uncomfortable and embarrassed about being questioned about an over the counter product that he used in his house.
On the day, Mr Mahmoudi said that he was then told that he required a prescription for the purchase - a claim denied by Boots.
The sales assistant told Mr Mahmoudi that they were out of stock but that she could order it for him. Mr Mahmoudi said that he went to another pharmacy and purchased the hydrogen peroxide without any questions.
He also stated that he asked an Irish friend to go to the same Boots to purchase the hydrogen peroxide the same day and he said that his Irish friend was not asked why he required the product.
Boots stated that hydrogen peroxide is one of the products listed in the regulations which is the reason why Mr Mahmoudi was questioned about the planned purchase.
Boots claimed that the combination of products that Mr Mahmoudi was seeking to purchase was unusual, including the hydrogen peroxide.
Boots stated that when questioned as to the purpose Mr Mahmoudi wished to purchase a product containing hydrogen peroxide he appeared unclear, initially stating it was for first aid and then saying it was for household cleaning.
Boots claimed that Mr Mahmoudi appeared unfamiliar with the regular use of hydrogen peroxide and he appeared nervous and uneasy by the routine questioning put to him by the Boots employee in accordance with robust training.
Boots stated that for these reasons, the pharmacy assistant considered the transaction suspicious and refused the sale, referring the matter to the pharmacist.
The pharmacy assistant told the WRC that the products that Mr Mahmoudi was seeking to purchase “seemed to her to be a suspicious transaction and she asked him what he was using it for”.
She said that Mr Mahmoudi told her he required the products to make cat repellent.
The pharmacy worker said that Mr Mahmoudi’s race or religion had nothing to do with her decision to query him.
The Boots worker that she had to comply with the regulations otherwise she could be disciplined.
She said after questioning Mr Mahmoudi, the pharmacist decided it was not a suspicious transaction and she agreed to order it in as it is not a stock item any longer.