We don't deserve to be treated with such contempt over a $2 avocado

Coles has been at the forefront of a media campaign with the police this week to stamp out the apparently dire menace of people potentially shoplifting while using the self-service lanes at their supermarkets.

They somehow managed to simultaneously wag their fingers and shake their fists at us all for being so devious and opportunistic. One detective solemnly noted that even if you were saving $2 on an avocado, it was still shoplifting.

The DIY machines are clearly a convenient option for many, especially light-fingered supermarket customers.

This terrible campaign is designed simply to make innocent people feel like criminals. And it disregards the fundamental golden thread running through our criminal law: the presumption of innocence.

Without consultation, supermarkets have taken away manned checkouts, thereby cutting their costs. They then make us, their supposedly valued customers, responsible for doing a huge amount of unpaid work, correctly scanning items. Then they castigate us if we get things wrong. Meanwhile the costs of the police and the prosecution of shoplifters are borne by the public.

Coles: "This terrible campaign is designed simply to make innocent people feel like criminals." Photo: Darrian Traynor

Coles: "This terrible campaign is designed simply to make innocent people feel like criminals." Photo: Darrian Traynor

Surely if supermarkets were really losing vast sums through self-scan shoplifting the answer would be to close the self-scan lanes and hire more staff.

Yes, some people will take advantage and play the system but many more will simply and inadvertently scan, say, a bunch of expensive truss tomatoes for cheaper ones. It's a perfectly reasonable mistake to make given the complexity of finding the exact type of produce on the screen in front of you. All this while many of us are thinking of getting home through peak hour traffic, answering phone calls, wrangling small children, dealing with a wonky shopping cart and listening to brain-numbing 'Hits of the 1980s' muzak.

We also know that some people who do shoplift use a "Robin Hood" justification, happy to steal from a greedy, faceless corporation.

This is the same supermarket that last year was fined $2.5 million after breaching consumer laws by falsely advertising bread products as "freshly baked" that had in fact been partially baked and then frozen months earlier in factories in Europe.

And it would also be the Coles that in 2014 agreed to pay $10 million in penalties after admitting to multiple instances of unconscionable conduct against its suppliers.

Perhaps if Coles were to get its own ethical house in order, many intentional shoplifters would have to stop, pause and think again. And that too might well solve a large part of the problem.

So, pot? Meet kettle. By the way, you'll find them both on aisle 10. And we don't need Coles looking over our shoulder as we scan them.

Duncan Fine is a lawyer and social commentator.

canberratimes.com.au

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