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CEOs from 23 major British retailers and the sector’s leading industry bodies have joined forces in writing to the Prime Minister to ask him to provide effective legal protection for shop workers in the face of increasing levels of abuse and violence.

The move comes in the week that Alex Norris MP is due to get a second reading of his private members bill – Assaults on Retail Workers – this Friday, 25th September.

The bill, which the Co-op has been heavily supporting for the last two years as part of its own campaign to tackle retail violence, calls upon the Government to create a new offence which would carry higher penalties for those that abuse or attack shop workers when they are trying to enforce the law on age-restricted sales.

In the letter, the conglomerate of retail bosses – who collectively employ over 1.25 million shop workers – state:

“In partnership with our colleagues on the front-line, with USDAW and with a cross-party coalition of MPs, we support Alex Norris’ Private Members Bill to provide that greater protection for our colleagues.

“This united response from business leaders, trade unions and frontline workers should demonstrate the need for these additional protections. We believe there is a clear and broad-based consensus behind this Bill, and we ask that the Government acts now to support this important Bill and find time for it to pass through Parliament.”

The British Retail Consortium’s 2020 retail crime survey showed that over 400 retail workers face violence and abuse in the workplace every day, with the incidents often the result of staff challenging shoplifters, or more recently, due to them trying to implement coronavirus safety measures. Meanwhile, a 2020 crime report from the Association of Convenience stores found that a quarter of violence incidents resulted in injury, with a weapon used in almost 20% of occurrences. A knife was the most commonly used weapon (43%) with axes, hammers and syringes used to attack or threaten shopworkers.


Retailers are spending a record £1.2 billion on crime prevention measures to keep their colleagues safe but are now calling on the Government to play their part.

  • Stuart Reddish, NFRN National President, said: “I get calls from hundreds of retailers who are crime victims. The impact of retail crime can be devastating and long-lasting – not just in terms of physical injuries but on anxiety and stress too. The Government has to act and tackle retail crime once and for all so everyone working in shops have confidence in their workplace and that should a crime incident occur they will receive the response and protection from the government, police and justice system that they deserve.”


  • Jo Whitfield, CEO, Co-op Food, said: “Our nation’s shop workers are heroes and as important key workers they have played a vital role in providing communities across the country with access to food, household goods, financial services, prescriptions and medication all the way through lockdown. It is simply not part of their job to face a torrent of verbal or physical abuse and we want the Government to do their bit in introducing legislation that will make shop workers feel safer when they go to work.”



  • Andrew Goodacre, CEO, British Independent Retail Association, said: “Bira members have become increasingly concerned by the increase in abuse aimed at retail employees and owners, and unfortunately the Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated the problem. Independent retailers cannot afford extra security staff and so we need the relevant authorities to take this issue seriously and protect the people who have more than played their role in supporting their local communities throughout this current crisis.”


  • Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “It is completely unacceptable for anyone to go to work fearing threats and violence, but regrettably, there are over 400 such incidents against retail workers which take place every day. This is despite retailers spending a record £1.2 billion on crime prevention, and yet the number of incidents has risen as retail employees implement coronavirus safety measures. The BRC has long called for the Government to take decisive action; we want a specific criminal offence put into legislation to ensure those who assault retail workers face the full force of the law and make staff feel better protected.”


  • Debbie Robinson, CEO, Central England Co-op, said: “Stronger laws and punishments are needed for criminals who feel that it is acceptable to target shop workers in these types of brutal and appalling ways. While we continue to campaign for more to be done, we also want to send a message to would-be criminals. We have a zero tolerance approach to any kind of crime and, if you still want to commit a crime, we will work around the clock with local police forces to bring you to justice in an effort to keep our colleagues and customers safe.”



  • Jonathan Miller, Chief Executive of McColl’s Retail Group, said: “It is unacceptable that shop workers, who have been working incredibly hard to support customers in such a challenging environment following the COVID-19 outbreak, should be subject to any form of abuse. Ensuring the safety of our colleagues is paramount and we urge the Government to provide effective legal protection for all retail shop workers.”



  • Ken Towle, CEO, Nisa Retail, said: “I’m extremely proud of tremendous lengths Nisa’s independent retailers went to in ensuring the communities they serve across the country had access to the products and support services they needed as the nation faced into the challenges of COVID-19. As valuable members of their communities they did all of this to care for the needs of their customers and it is absolutely wrong that they should be targeted with verbal and physical aggression. We call on Government to help protect our retailers by introducing legislation that will make them feel safer in the work place.”



  • Simon Roberts, CEO, Sainsbury’s said, “Everybody has the right to feel safe at work. Our store colleagues play an extraordinary role in serving and feeding our nation and it is vital that we work together as an industry and with Government to protect them.”


Full list of signatories


  1. Jo Whitfield, CEO, Co-op Food
  2. James Lowman, CEO, Association of Convenience Stores
  3. Giles Hurley, CEO, Aldi
  4. Roger Burnley, CEO, Asda
  5. Sebastian James, Senior Vice President and Managing Director, Boots
  6. Andrew Goodacre, CEO, British Independent Retailers Association
  7. Helen Dickinson, CEO, British Retail Consortium
  8. Debbie Robinson, CEO, Central England Co-op
  9. Alex Baldock, CEO, Dixons Carphone
  10. Damian McGloughlin, CEO, Homebase
  11. Christian Härtnagel, CEO, Lidl GB,
  12. Steve Rowe, CEO, Marks and Spencer
  13. Jonathan Miller, CEO, McColl’s
  14. Phil Ponsonby, CEO, The Midcounties Co-operative
  15. David Potts, CEO, Morrisons
  16. Joe Garner, CEO, Nationwide
  17. Stuart Reddish, National President, National Federation of Retail Newsagents
  18. Ken Towle, CEO, Nisa Retail
  19. Simon Roberts, CEO, Sainsbury’s
  20. Mark Smith, CEO, Southern Co-op
  21. Clive Bairsto CBE, CEO, Street Works UK
  22. Jason Tarry, CEO, TescoUK and ROI
  23. Carl Cowling, Group Chief Executive, WHSmith

Retail Letter To Government

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