On September 18th, 2023, a distressing video circulating on social media, showed the crew members of Cargills Food City in the Cotta Road, Borella, outlet assaulting a shoplifter who was also seen stripping herself. The video went viral, prompting public outrage and calls to boycott the supermarket chain. Apparently, the video originated from CCTV footage and was uploaded to social media by an employee seeking to get even with the branch manager. Subsequent police investigations unveiled that the shoplifter had a history of illicit drug addiction and prior shoplifting charges with pending court hearings. While the actions of the Cargills Food City outlet staff (who were arrested by the police later) were inappropriate, the decision to boycott the business is subjective and dependent on individual beliefs and circumstances. Today, I aim to provide you with a few facts to help you make an informed choice.
In Pic: The store sign of the Cargills Vegetable and Fruit Collection Center in Hawa Eliya, Nuwara Eliya, from the year 2013.
Disclaimer: It is imperative to acknowledge that this article does not constitute an attempt to apportion blame, engage in victimization, or offer justification for the actions of the aforesaid Cargills Food City crew under scrutiny. The sole purpose herein is to provide factual information that may facilitate an informed decision.
Using a shotgun to kill a Mosquito
As of 2016, Cargills Food City had a supplier network of 5,000 farmers across the country from whom they sourced various products such as vegetables, fruits, dairy, and meat. They operated 10 collection centers strategically placed across the island to purchase directly from farmers, cutting out middlemen and benefiting local farmers (source: SlideShare). By 2021, Cargills had employed 9,875 people across the nation (source: Wikipedia), and many of these employees and suppliers are the sole providers for their families. Considering the current economic challenges, including a high unemployment rate of 4.70% as of March 2023 (according to the Central Bank of Sri Lanka), boycotting a business like Cargills Food City could have severe consequences. It’s akin to using a shotgun to kill a Mosquito. Such a move could jeopardize the livelihoods of numerous individuals and exacerbate the economic difficulties the country is facing.
The Act of Cherry-Picking the Facts
The social media activists who promoted the video, condemning the Cargills Food City staff for their brutal treatment of a shoplifter, conveniently omitted crucial details. They cherry-picked the facts by failing to mention that the shoplifter had a history of drug abuse and previous shoplifting charges with pending court hearings. Every story has two sides, and this incident is no exception. It’s clear that these activists selectively presented facts to serve their primary goal: to expand their organic reach, accumulate more “Likes” and reactions, and generate comments. Their motivation for sharing the video wasn’t rooted in seeking justice for the assaulted woman or anger toward the Cargills Food City staff. Instead, it was a means to self-promote their social media channels. This highlights the importance of considering all aspects of a situation before forming judgments based on limited information.
Media that Feather their own Nest
While social media activists selectively presented facts, mainstream media outlets did even worse by disseminating unverified and biased information that had circulated on social media, thereby fueling the fury of the general public further. For instance, the Daily Mirror, portrayed it as a brutal attack by the Cargills Food City crew on a female customer while “මව් රට නිව්ස්” inaccurately reported that the incident occurred at the Cargills Food City in Hanwella, but neither newspaper mentioned the woman’s shoplifting or her history of offenses. It’s evident that these mainstream newspapers didn’t bother to conduct a thorough investigation but relied on information that surfaced on social media doing a lousy job of reporting. Their motive was to feather their own nest by generating traffic for their online newspapers by publishing juicy but inaccurate information.
Admins Sitting on a Powder Keg
According to social media, the Cargills Food City crew involved in the incident faced accusations of both assaulting and stripping the victim. However, when I watched the video, I noticed that the employee who shared it on social media had edited out a specific segment. Surprisingly, the few seconds recorded before the edited portion suggest that it was the victim who stripped herself, not the staff. It’s evident that the social media administrators are sitting on a powder keg because they couldn’t have missed this crucial detail. While it was inappropriate for the crew to take matters into their own hands, it’s apparent that the employee who posted the video had ulterior motives. They deliberately omitted the part where the shoplifter undressed herself, seemingly to falsely implicate the crew. Are you willing to be manipulated as pawns in someone else’s vendetta? I don’t think so.
Making Hay while the Sun Shines
It’s possible that the incident at the Cargills Food City outlet in Kotta Road, Borella, is being exploited by politicians as a distraction from the country’s pressing issues. Given the disproportionate attention this incident has received compared to a similar one at Keells Super outlet in Wattala on April 19, 2023, and the police were quick to make arrests despite not receiving a formal complaint, we can’t dismiss the possibility that the government is making hay while the sun shines by leveraging this unfortunate incident to divert Sri Lankan citizens’ attention away from the controversial Channel 4 documentary. Another potential motive could be to financially cripple the supermarket chain, potentially clearing the path for a new player to enter the scene. This situation draws parallels to when a human finger was found in a Kandos Chocolate produced by Ceylon Chocolates Limited, just two years after local business tycoon Dhammika Perera entered the confectionery business. The timing and circumstances raise questions about ulterior motives behind such incidents.
In conclusion, I’d like to emphasize three significant aspects regarding the Cargills Food City incident in Borella. First, many social media users argue against taking the law into one’s hands, but it’s worth noting our history of resorting to vigilantism, as seen in the “අරගලය” (aragalaya = the struggle) attacks. Here’s the full story to jog your memory. We cannot uphold wrongdoing when it’s convenient and condemn the same when it’s not. Second, even shoplifting makes people uneasy while living in a nation grappling with bankruptcy caused by corruption and high-level theft. Third, if the shoplifter has a history of drug abuse, it sheds light on the authorities’ struggles with addiction rehabilitation which is a topic for another post yet an issue we cannot ignore. Ultimately, the choice to boycott Cargills Food City is yours, but I strongly urge you to consider these presented facts before making that drastic decision.
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