Three major drug store chains have announced plans to stop locking up beauty and hair care products aimed at black women and other customers “from diverse backgrounds.” The companies — Walmart, Walgreens and CVS — made their plans known in separate statements shared with NPR on Friday.
“We’re sensitive to the issue and understand the concerns raised by our customers and members of the community,” a Walmart spokesperson said, “and have made the decision to discontinue placing multicultural hair care and beauty products — a practice in place in about a dozen of our 4,700 stores nationwide — in locked cases.”
The intention was echoed by Walgreens and CVS, the latter of which also added that it had expanded its stock of products that “appeal to communities of color” by 35% over the past year.
The nationwide protests directed at racial injustice and policing in the U.S. have retrained attention on a practice that critics call discriminatory — locking up items that generally cater to black customers or placing them behind a cover. But the controversy simmered long before the most recent eruption of outrage.
In 2018, a woman named Essie Grundy filed a federal lawsuit against Walmart. She said that several times at her local store in Perris, Calif., she observed that “the hair and body products meant for African-Americans had been locked away behind glass shelves, segregated from products for non African-Americans.”
“She felt shame and humiliation,” her complaint reads, “as though people viewed her as a criminal.”
At the time, Walmart pushed back against the assertion, saying that there was no specific category for “African-American products” and that they apply “enhanced security measures” for any product that has high rates of theft — including items such as razors and batteries. The case was dismissed last year.
Still, the criticism has persisted — and even flared up in recent weeks with the heightened scrutiny of racial attitudes. Social media has been awash with photographs of certain products behind glass while other, similar items stand free.
“Our product protection measures have never been based on the race or ethnicity of our customers,” a CVS spokesman said in an email to NPR.
But after a review, he added, changes are nevertheless in motion: “We are taking steps in our stores to ensure that no hair, beauty or personal care products for communities of color are kept in locked displays or shelving units.”