• Over 65 CEOs have written to the PM calling for greater protection for shopworkers in England and Wales 
  • Verbal abuse and violence have been increasing for some time but a BRC survey finds this has accelerated as a result of Covid safety measures
  • Letter calls for legislation to make assaulting shopworkers a separate offence, the same as in Scotland

Over 65 leading retailers and industry bodies have written to the Prime Minister calling on him to take urgent action to tackle violence and abuse towards retail workers. The letter calls for the Government “to treat the issue with the seriousness it deserves and improve protection for our employees by creating a new statutory offence of assaulting, threatening or abusing a retail worker.” This legislation would toughen sentences for those who are violent or abusive towards shopworkers, deter future perpetrators and ensure shopworkers feel safer at work.

The letter comes in response to a recent survey conducted by the BRC, which found that:

  • Of “essential” retailers, who are currently allowed to be open, 100% of respondents have seen an increase in verbal abuse
  • Two thirds of respondents reported an increase in the number of incidents of physical violence against staff during the current lockdown
  • All retailers who reported a rise in verbal or violent attacks said that the enforcement of Covid restrictions was the key factor
  • One leading retailer reported 990 incidents of violence or abuse in the first week after face coverings became compulsory in shops in including incidents of coughing and spitting

Individual stories are shocking and sadly all too common:

One retailer reported that when reminding customers to shop alone, they were confronted and shouted at by an individual, who returned to the store later that afternoon “brandishing an axe [and] … threatening the store team with it".

A shopworker at another retailer asked a couple to put on face coverings. They left the store, only to return hours later when they began "coughing on staff, insisting they had coronavirus, which made the staff feel distressed.”

Another accounts a time where they were “threatened with a syringe… [because a shoplifter] was stealing cheese and said if I didn’t get out of the way he would stab me.”

The BRC has long called for a new statutory offence for those who are violent or abusive against retail staff, as well as an improved police response. Retailers are spending record amounts on crime prevention, with increased security personnel, body-worn cameras and personal attack alarms, yet incidents are on the rise. Our 2020 Crime Survey conducted prior to the pandemic revealed that over 400 shopworkers were being abused or assaulted every day. Common triggers included age verification and confronting shop lifters.

Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium said: 
"The BRC has repeatedly called on the Government to take action and protect our colleagues from harm. Every day over 400 retail staff are attacked, threatened, or abused in their place of work. Over 150,000 in 2019, and these numbers have been rising during the pandemic. Those attacked are our friends, our family, our colleagues. This cannot go on.

“The recent surge in violence should serve as a wake-up call for Government. Retail workers are playing a vital role during the biggest public health crisis of our time – ensuring everyone has access to the items they need and keeping stores safe for customers and colleagues. And, at what cost? They have been coughed at, spat on, racially abused, threatened with weapons, the list goes on. No one should go to work fearing for their safety, and we hope the Prime Minister will play his part by introducing a new offence for abusing, threatening and assaulting a retail worker.”

- ENDS -

Notes to Editors:

  1. The letter has been signed by: ALDI, Ann Summers, ASDA Stores, Association of Convenience Stores, B&Q, Bensons for Beds, BIRA, Burger King, Booksellers Association, Boots UK, Bravissimo, BRC, Card Factory, Carpetright, Cath Kidston, Central England Co-operative, Costa Coffee, Costcutter Supermarkets, Debenhams, Dixons Carphone Group, Dune Group, Greggs, Harvey Nichols, hmv, Homebase, Iceland Foods, IKEA UK, JD Sports, John Lewis, KFC, Lidl GB, L’Occitane, Marks & Spencer, McDonald’s, McKesson, Mountain Warehouse, Music Industries Association, NFRN, Pets at Home, Post Office, Poundland, Primark, Reiss, Richer Sounds, Sainsbury’s, Savers Health and Beauty, Schuh, Scottish Grocers’ Federation, Scottish Midland Co-operative Society, Screwfix Direct, Seasalt, SPAR UK, Starbucks UK, Studio Retail, Superdrug Stores, The Body Shop, The Co-operative Group, The Fragrance Group, The Perfume Shop, Timpson, USDAW, Vision Express, Waitrose, WHSmith, Wickes Building Supplies, WM Morrison
  2. The letter can be viewed here 
  3. “Essential” retailers taking part in the survey represent around 650,000 staff
  4. According to the BRC 2020 Crime Survey, retailers spent £1.2 billion on crime prevention (pre-pandemic)

The BRC sent this release to our “Crime", “High Streets” and “Political" media list(s). To check/update what media lists you are on, please contact us below:

Case studies

Retailer 1

A couple arrived at our store, as they approached the door our colleague politely reminded them that ideally we’d like them to shop alone, rather than as a pair. Our colleague then directed them to take a look at our signage.

“The female swore at the colleague at the front of the store and began to act aggressively, she was subsequently asked to leave. At this point the male charged across the store and started threatening the store manager. He stood really close to the store manager, with his face pushed against him, clearly not observing any social distancing rules and began challenging him to a fight. The store team served the couple to avoid further confrontation and they left the store.

Later in the same afternoon the male returned to the store brandishing an axe that he just purchased from a DIY store on the retail park. He began threatening the store team with it, which was obviously extremely distressing. We contacted the police, but he left the site before they arrived.

The police response in this instance was quite poor and one that we are in the process of following up, as they advised our store team not to press charges as it could incite an escalation in violence from this individual. They did however visit him at his home address and handed him an official notice banning him from our stores.

Retailer 2

A male and female couple were in store shopping the body spray aisle using live products as testers and were refusing to put face coverings on when requested. They left the store but later came back just before closing time and began verbally abusing staff and making threats. They began coughing on staff, insisting they had coronavirus, which made the staff feel distressed.

A man walked straight into men’s, started to try on deodorant so I politely told him they are not testers, so he started shouting at me to “f**k off and to stop harassing him and he spat all over me. He also swore and made a racial comment to other colleagues.

Retailer 3

An altercation took place between a door supervisor/security and customer when the customer was asked to socially distance in the restaurant as per government and business guidelines. The customer attacked the door supervisor repeatedly, knocked him to the floor and carried on punching him. The door supervisor was taken to hospital and Police informed however the Police were unable to identify the attacker as he was wearing a hoody that prevented CCTV showing a clear picture of his face.

Retailer 4

Violence and abuse is the worst I have ever seen, it is just getting worse and, is almost a normal part of day-to-day life for some people – which is not right. Whether that is if we have to limit the number of customers in store for everyone’s safety or ask someone to move a car that is blocking disabled access – it can all be a trigger for abuse, anti-social behaviour - being shouted and screamed at, or worse.

It affects all retailers, it is a societal issue - it is not all customers, don’t get me wrong, the majority are brilliant, and it is clear they really value the role of the local store - but whether it is facemasks being a flashpoint or other frustrations, it spills over into stores and other places in the community - and it really is not acceptable.

About 16 months ago I was threatened with a syringe – a shoplifter pulled out a needle. He was stealing cheese and said if I didn’t get out of the way he would stab me.

My biggest concern though is for my colleagues; I never want my team to put themselves in harm’s way. They have been amazing throughout the pandemic, not only keeping the community fed but supporting the most vulnerable too. This level of abuse for frontline workers really shouldn’t be part of the job. It is the impact on individuals I worry about, it has a massive impact on mental health – it is the thought that it could happen at any time, the unknown.

Retailer 5

A young male was refused alcohol due to being underage, he made threats to the colleague. A couple of hours later the youth returned to the store, approached the colleague, and struck him with a house brick causing a head injury.