Retail bosses call on government to take action against retail crime

The top bosses of major retailers including John Lewis, Sainsbury’s, M&S and Aldi among others have signed a letter calling on the UK government to take more action to protect workers in the face of mounting abuse from customers and thieves.

The letter also counts the bosses of BT, the Post Office and former work and pensions secretary Esther McVey amongst its signatories.

Coinciding with the letter’s publication, the Retail Trust carried out a survey of 1,600 workers from over 200 retailers which highlighted the growing issues of staff abuse in retail. It found that 41 per cent said they are shouted at, spat on, threatened or hit every week, while 47 per cent said that they feel unsafe at work.

Furthermore, the survey found that nine in 10 retail workers have faced abuse at work, with 84 per cent shouted at, a third threatened with violence, 14 per cent physically assaulted and 10 per cent spat on. Rates of abuse have risen from last year, when 34 per cent told the Retail Trust that they experienced it weekly compared to 41 per cent this year.

The report also contains testimonies from shop workers recounting the abuse they had suffered, including a 42-year-old department store manager who said they had been “attacked 20 or 30 times in the last two decades” including an incident which sent them to A&E.

Commenting on the report, Chris Brook Carter, chief executive of the Retail Trust, said: “Every day we’re hearing from people who have been shouted at, spat on, threatened or hit at work, sometimes several times a week, so we’re very concerned. One person told us they were hit around the head by a shoplifter with a metal basket, another was knocked out cold by an angry customer, and this is on top of the vile insults and threats handed out on an all-too-regular basis.”

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, called for the creation of a “standalone offence to send a clear message that this behaviour will not be tolerated, and to help police allocate appropriate resources to challenge and deter potential offenders.”

Inaction over rising retail crime has been highlighted elsewhere by a new report from the Co-Op which said that police fail to show up in three out of four cases where shopworkers have detained shoplifters. The company said that it had recorded 300,000 incidents of shoplifting, abuse, violence and anti-social behaviour so far this year in its stores.

A spokesperson for the Home Office said: "It is completely unacceptable to threaten or assault shop workers. We have recently put aggravated sentences for assaults on shop workers into law, showing that these crimes will not be tolerated."

Last month, the government announced the creation of the Retail Crime Action Plan, which sets out advice for retailers on how to provide the best possible evidence for police to pursue in any case.

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