Violence and abuse towards retail workers Contents

3The role of employers

97.The Home Office identified that a “common theme throughout” responses to its 2019 call for evidence was the lack of support shop workers receive from their employer. The Government Response highlighted:

Individuals reported being told ‘to get on with the job’ after reporting instances of verbal abuse and a culture in which managers tended to side with customers rather than employees, potentially as a result of believing that the customer ‘is always right’. Some respondents also felt that managers tended to focus on preserving the reputation of the store and did not always challenge unacceptable behaviour by customers.185

98.As a result of the consultation, the Government committed to work with the National Retail Crime Steering Group to develop communications for both employees and employers to make clear that violence and abuse of shop workers is not tolerated.186

What do retail workers want?

99.The USDAW 2020 survey included the following graphic highlighting what retail workers want from employers with regards to retail crime:187

Figure 7

100.Joanne Cairns, USDAW, told us that it is very important workers are properly supported after an incident. She highlighted that USDAW has good agreements with some employers who have put in place proper support arrangements but “that is not the case everywhere” and “there are many non-unionised employers where this is not necessarily happening”.188 She also told us that what retail workers wanted most was for employers “to back them up” when they are dealing with an abusive customer. She noted that it is also difficult to ensure managers at ground level, who may not have the necessary knowledge or training to support retail workers, actually implement policies. In this context, the old adage that ‘the customer is always right’ can be detrimental to workers getting the support they need.189 Professor Emmeline Taylor also found that it is important victims are provided with the right support following a violent attack. She recommended access to specialist counselling services and reassurance that steps would be taken to prevent future incidents and address security deficits.190

101.The Institute of Customer Services told us there is a responsibility on CEOs and senior leaders to protect their staff while they are at work and ensure customer-facing staff are given support and continuous training to be able to cope with new pressures and responsibilities.191 However, data gathered by the Institute in September 2020 showed that 63% of workers say they have not had additional training from their employer since the start of the pandemic. In July 2020, the Institute launched a ‘Service with Respect’ campaign in conjunction with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Customer Service which asked organisations to:

102.The campaign has seen 164 employers, with a combined workforce of 1,158,437, sign up to calls for action.193 The majority of respondents (68%) to our public survey said that no further help was provided to them following official report of an incident:

Figure 8

103.The Home Office and NRCSG guidance, published on the British Retail Consortium website, informs retail workers that support “may be provided by the business you work for” and lists examples of support some employers offer. A link to the Suzy Lamplugh ‘Charter for Workplace Safety’ which “can be used to benchmark what your business has in place to keep colleagues safe” is also provided.194 Suzy’s Charter provides a “personal safety framework that can help organisations become fully compliant with excellent personal safety policy and protocols,”195 it covers the following key points:

104.In this context, we noted with interest the Department for Education’s introduction of the Education Staff Wellbeing Charter in May 2021.197 It is described as a “declaration of support for, and set of commitments to, the wellbeing and mental health of everyone working in education”. The Charter sets out principles of shared understanding on the meaning and importance of wellbeing and everyone’s roles and responsibilities and provides a tool for schools and colleges to create, and publicly commit to, their own wellbeing strategies.198 A package of resources is also provided.

105.The Government’s commitment to develop “communications for both employees and employers to make clear that violence and abuse of shop workers is not tolerated”199 as one strand of the four ‘task and finish’ groups has evolved into the #ShopKind campaign. It is important to note that this campaign is targeted at the public, rather than employers and employees. The British Retail Consortium guidance page contains a link to downloadable “media campaign materials” which are hosted on the National Business Crime Centre website. Resources include posters, badges, till screen graphics, Instagram and Facebook templates and four 20 second videos.200

106.Employers have a duty of care and play a vital role in ensuring their employees have the confidence to report incidents, and the appropriate support to deal with difficult situations. Evidence from our public survey, and the Government’s 2019 call for evidence, suggests that many retail workers are not getting the support they need from their employers.

107.We welcome the Government’s creation of downloadable digital assets for the #ShopKind campaign which we hope will raise awareness amongst the public about retail crime and its impact on shop workers. However, we think this action completely fails to address the problem of employers who do not support their workers to report abuse, ban repeat offenders or access counselling or training. The language around “options that may be provided” by your business will be of little use to the many retail workers whose employers do not provide those services. We recommend the Government sets out clearly in its guidance, addressing itself directly to employers, the actions they should be taking to support retail workers in the context of retail crime. This should state:

108.We applaud the work of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust in creating Suzy’s Charter, a far more effective and useful tool than the Government’s guidance for securing the safety of retail workers. The Government’s lacklustre endorsement of the Charter, a fleeting reference that “this could be used to benchmark what your business has in place” with a link to the website is very disappointing. We recommend that the Home Office strengthen its action by working with the National Retail Crime Steering Group to agree an Employers Charter using Suzy’s Charter as a template, which is specifically targeted at retail workers and retail crime. This approach would help drive best practice, it would ensure that retail workers know what they should expect and can put pressure on employers who do not meet these standards.

Preventative measures

109.The British Retail Consortium estimates that in 2020 the total cost to retailers of crime prevention measures was £1.2 billion.201 The Association of Convenience Stores estimates that its members have spent £175million or £3,724 on average per store in 2020.202 Despite these record sums, we found the most popular action for preventing future incidents, selected by 42% of the 12,667 retail workers we surveyed, was “more or improved security measures in and around premises.”

Figure 9

110.Several stakeholders to this inquiry told us about the innovative preventative measures they are putting in place to support their workers. UK Finance members reported taking the following measures:

111.Dixons Carphone told us that they had spent “significant sums” on deterring theft and reducing incidents of violence, both physical and verbal, towards colleagues. This investment included CCTV, G7 clamps to better secure high value goods and the trial roll out of panic alarms. The company also solicits a range of services offering victim support or counselling post-incident (Mind, Calm and an Employee Assistance Programme line supported by Care First and Wellbeing-4 Life).204 The Central England Cooperative has implemented the following new measures:

112.The Co-op told us that between 2016 and 2022 it has committed to invest £140m in security, crime prevention and colleague safety measures. Key measures include the roll-out of headsets in all stores which enables colleagues to stay connected to each other, tablet devices which enable more colleagues to spend time on the shop floor and personal safety devices for colleagues in stores with one-to-one working. They have recently completed a trial of body worn cameras with results showing “a really strong deterrent impact.” The most sophisticated new technology they are implementing in 1000 stores is a CCTV collaboration with a specialist company which provides a “command and Control Centre” response when employees press their panic buttons. The company then communicates and supports employees during the incident and produces a package of video and witness statement evidence after the incident for the police.206

113.In 2020, the Co-op told us this system has helped it provide evidence to the police regarding 146 case files which has led to 183 arrests and 25 prosecutions.207 Wickes told us it has identified “some historical reluctance” toward the reporting of incidents of both physical and verbal abuse and launched an internal ‘Let’s Care for Each Other’ campaign which included:

114.The John Lewis Partnership has also rolled out Body Worn Video technology to “priority locations” across all John Lewis and Waitrose stores which colleagues report “adds to a feeling of safety in store” and has had a noticeable deterrent effect with regards to threatening behaviour. The company also provides a mandatory training package advising how to handle an abusive customer and encourages Partners to “to report all incidents of abuse either to their Line or Duty Manager, or via a confidential helpline”. As part of its “zero tolerance approach” it actively supports completion of victim impact statements and employs communication in store to inform all customers about the zero-tolerance approach.209 Finally, Boots told us it had spent around £100m over the last 5 years to support “colleague safety, security and loss prevention”. Measures include:

115.The Home Office and NRCSG guidance, published on the British Retail Consortium website, includes a 5-minute video, co-created with the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, on how to de-escalate violence.210 It also includes a link to a detailed tool kit for sharing personal data with the police, provided by the Information Commissioner’s Office.211 We note in this context that the National Business Crime Centre has also collated resources on preventative measures for retailers on its website. These include advice from the Metropolitan Police entitled ‘How secure is your shop’, the Lancashire Police ‘Business Crime Prevention Guide’ and the ‘Lone worker safety guide’.212

116.Smaller retailers are much less likely to have access to security expertise or investment in technology and, as many have been heavily affected by the pandemic, they may also struggle to find additional funds to invest in the area. Small local high street shops sometimes have only one member of staff and we heard from the Association of Convenience Stores about the added vulnerability of workers in small local stores. Those shopworkers are in even greater need of the kind of technological and organised support.

117.The Committee was impressed by this range of solutions and the potential of new technology to improve both the safety of retail workers and the ability to gather evidence about incidents of retail crime. The methods described above, such as body worn video cameras, headsets for internal communication, counselling services and central command and control systems, represent a best practice approach. However, we acknowledge that many of these solutions will not be financially viable for many businesses.

118.The guidance provided by the Government and the National Retail Crime Steering Group, published nearly 10 months after the response to the call for evidence, amounts to eight A4 pages of highly general advice followed by 10 pages of example statements and reports. While elements such as the short de-escalation training video and links to tool kits and guidance provided by the Information Commissioner’s Office are certainly useful, we feel these resources reflect a distinct lack of urgency on the part of Government to address the scale of problem. We recommend that the Government’s resources, which would be particularly beneficial for independent shops and small businesses, additionally include specific ‘tool kit’ style material to support all employers to take the following actions:

119.We also encourage large national retailers to play a leading role in local business partnerships, working with local councils and the police to encourage and include small independent high street retailers in security measures including CCTV or local communication networks for sharing intelligence on incidents or repeat offenders. We welcome the further rounds of the Safer Streets Fund which should also be used to help improve safety and support for staff working in small and independent retailers. We recommend that local authorities work with local retailers and with the police to identify smaller high streets and areas with many small independent shops which have less capacity to tackle security issues and draw up plans including bids to the Safer Streets Fund to support shopworkers in those areas.

186 ibid

192 Service with Respect, The Institute of Customer Service

193 ibid

195 Suzy’s Charter, Suzy Lamplugh Trust website

197 Department for Education, The Education Staff Wellbeing Charter, May 2021

198 Guidance, Education staff wellbeing charter, May 2021

200 #ShopKind, National business Crime Centre

201 Crime Survey, British Retail Consortium, May 2021

202 Crime Report 2021, Association of Convenience Stores

203 UK Finance (VTR0037)

206 Co-op Group (VTR0027)

207 Co-op Group (VTR0027)

208 Wickes (VTR0010)

212 Crime Prevention, National business Crime Centre

Published: 29 June 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement