Georgian supermarket chain Fresco has been accused by former and current employees of ‘secretly spying’ on them, after installing video cameras in women’s dressing rooms.
‘They are spying on us while we change clothes’, a group of employees said on 11 April at a press conference. According to them, two male security officers have access to the footage. ‘We heard voices of laughter while we were changing in the dressing room’, they said.
Fresco has confirmed that they installed surveillance in dressing rooms to ‘prevent theft and physical confrontation’. However, according to them, the only person who had access to the footage was a woman.
Fresco has not installed any cameras in the men’s dressing rooms.
One Fresco employee has claimed that women are habitually sexually harassed by management in all of the chain’s locations. ‘They would spy on us when they worked from home’, she claimed.
Georgia’s law on personal data protection prohibits surveillance in dressing rooms and bathrooms; violation of the law is punishable by a fine of ₾500 ($200).
‘Any investigative body can pay us a visit and if any violations are found, we will take responsibility’, Fresco said.
Fresco currently operates eight supermarkets in Tbilisi, and has been on the Georgian retail market since 2012. The chain is registered under an offshore company, V.P.S. GROUP LIMITED, in the British Virgin islands. Controversy surrounded Fresco last summer when it emerged that management would play Georgia’s national anthem every evening, during which employees were forced to stand still with their right hands over their hearts.
In February 2017, the company faced serious backlash after several former and current employees complained of exploitation at work, including long unpaid working hours (60 hours a week instead of the legal maximum of 48), groundless cuts in salaries, forced labour, and bullying. Fresco denied any wrongdoing, calling them ‘losers’ and ‘spongers’.
Fresco is owned by Vasil Sopromadze, whose name appeared in 2016 in the notorious Panama Papers, a massive leak detailing secret offshore accounts of a number of prominent people worldwide. However, while commenting on the topic, Sopromadze stressed that owning an offshore company is not illegal in Georgia, and that he had never tried to evade tax or avoid sanctions. He referred to the practice of playing the anthem routinely as ‘a mistake’.
Fresco has claimed that the latest revelations, as well as the previous protests against the company, are an ‘attempt to discredit the company and its owner’. ‘They have chosen the busiest — pre-Easter — period for us’, Fresco said, claiming the Sopromadze has received a number of phone calls urging him to leave the country.
As OC Media reported, the case comes at a time when labour rights in Georgia have become a critical issue, with several activist groups describing the situation as a ‘social crisis’