Youth Ethics

The Fine Line Between Style and Abuse

By April 24, 2020 No Comments

Claire’s is a North American chain of retail stores of accessories, jewelry, and toys. Their target market is primarily girls and tweens. As a significant part of their business, they sell earrings, and store clerks are empowered to pierce ears. The fine line between style and abuse is not one the clerks want to cross.

Ear piercing is an ancient practice of course where in some cultures it is an accepted rite of passage. However, in our society, it is an optional procedure used to help accessorize earrings. Piercing ears is not without its discomfort, especially to a young girl, however, that is not the ethical issue in play here.

I said, “No!” – The Fine Line Between Style and Abuse

Recently a former Claire’s sales clerk took to Facebook to protest a policy that the chain has in place that essentially says that if an employee is told by a parent to pierce a child’s ears, they must do so, even if the parent is forced to hold down and restrain the child. What led the clerk to leave the store’s employ was an incident where a parent “dragged” a 7-year-old into the store.

The Fine Line Between Style and AbuseFor an hour or so, the parent put pressure on the girl to have her ears pierced. The girl did not want to be touched, in fact, the clerk said the girl was pleading with her mother. Though the mother told the girl they could go home anytime she wanted, she was keeping the child from leaving. Finally, as the girl made a scene, the mother relented.

Here is where the story takes on another level. The next day, the manager calls the clerk into a meeting. Allegedly, he told the clerk that if a child walks in with a guardian and needs to be held down if the parent or guardian wants it, it will be done. The child has no say in the matter. Upon hearing this, the clerk resigned.

In her lengthy Facebook post protesting the policy, the former employee said in part:

“If you are a company that cares about kids, I implore you to consider changing this policy that blatantly ignores every child who vocally protests, cries, shows obvious signs of distress or is physically restrained by their alleged guardian while they sob and beg to be released.”

Confusion in the ranks

The company has maintained that:

“Customer well-being is our main priority, and we ensure that any child piercing we do is carried out with the best care in consultation with, and with the agreement of the legal guardian…The policy is in place to ensure that if a child is distressed or resisting, Claire’s employees have the right to refuse to continue the piercing.”

Since writing the Facebook post, the company has contacted the ex-employee to say that the policy might be changed that if a child is emotionally distressed or physically resistant, that the child’s wishes would be honored.

Nevertheless, since she posted on Facebook other employees have contacted her saying they had “similar circumstances,” though some clerks said that in their store, they would refuse to pierce the ears of a distressed child. The fine line between style and abuse is not one the clerks want to cross.

Not surprising, the company did not offer the clerk her job back, nor have they put an official policy in place on the matter that is more specific. The clerks are at the mercy and the insistence of the guardian’s wishes.

Not an emergency appendectomy

Of all of the “procedures” done to a child, I suppose that an ear piercing is the most innocuous. It is interesting to note that in the U.S. unless a child has parental consent, even a tattoo is illegal under 18 years of age.

We must separate vanity from necessity. That a 7-year-old needs an ear piercing is a matter of vanity. The world will not end for a child who refuses to be pierced. Most parents should know this, and Claire’s should absolutely be aware of this. However, Claire’s is in the business of selling earrings and to their minds, more pierced ears equal more earrings.

We cannot say if the child needs to be pierced, but it seems unfair and unethical to place an employee in the middle of such drama. It a rude, stressful and inappropriate to have a child held down while the clerk tries to position a device into place to pierce the child’s ears.

The store might see the opportunity to sell more earrings and they might rationalize the child’s resistance away by hiding behind a loose policy, but in the end, the stress falls on the clerk. To our way of thinking it is unethical and not worth the hassle to work in that environment.

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