Report funded by Co-op warns of rise in attacks on retail workers

'I’ve worked in retail businesses for more than 20 years and I’ve never seen such high levels of violence and abuse'

Crimes against shop workers are on the rise, according to a new report funded by the Co-op Group.

Written by Dr Emmeline Taylor from City, University of London, the research describes the impact and motivations of violence in the retail sector, which she describes as having “reached ‘epidemic’ proportions.”

Figures from the British Retail Consortium crime survey show that workers fall victim to 42,000 violent incidents with 115 colleagues physically attacked every day and many more verbally abused and threatened.

Meanwhile, the Home Office Commercial Victimisation Survey shows that assaults and threats toward retail and wholesale staff are at the highest level since 2012.

According to Dr Taylor’s research, shop workers report severe mental health consequences from violence, including long-lasting anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The study explores the context of violence and verbal abuse, such as encountering shoplifters; enforcing legislation relating to the sale of age-restricted goods and other prohibited sales; hate-motivated incidents; and armed and unarmed robberies.

Challenging shop thieves is the number one trigger for violence and verbal abuse in the retail sector, accounting for 25% of incidents, says the report.

“Multiple data sources show that the frequency and severity of violence towards shop workers is increasing,” said Dr Taylor. “Often ignored as ‘retail crime’ and therefore somehow victimless, let’s not forget that behind each and every statistic is a person who has directly experienced violence or verbal abuse while simply doing their job.

“The accounts provided in this study by victims highlight that more needs to be done to protect shop workers.”

She added: “There are several actionable recommendations for the industry, government and communities that, if implemented, I believe will begin to reverse the upsurge in violence occurring in our shops. But tackling violence requires long term meaningful investment in communities coupled with an effective criminal justice system that works to address the root causes of crime. Violence is preventable, not inevitable.”

In light of these findings, the report asks for a review of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act (ASBCPA) 2014, to consider the impact that financial values set in the Act have had on levels of theft.

It suggests introducing new legislation, which would carry higher penalties for attacks where the shop worker is enforcing the law on age-restricted sales, such as cigarettes or alcohol and measure hate-motivated offences in shops and provide adequate support for those targeted. It also calls on the government to deal with the root causes with better mental health provision and drug treatment programs.

Dr Taylor is in favour of changing expectations regarding age-restricted sales to move the onus onto customers to voluntarily prove their age as opposed to shop workers having to enforce the legislation.

Co-op Food CEO, Jo Whitfield, said: “Nothing is more important to me than protecting our colleagues at the Co-op. I’ve worked in retail businesses for more than 20 years and I’ve never seen such high levels of violence and abuse. And it’s having lasting effects on the lives of workers, both mentally and physically. It is not part of the job to be verbally abused, threatened or attacked.

“We’re determined to make sure it isn’t and in addition to industry-led initiatives, the sector needs government action to stem the tide of abuse against shop workers and address the underlying causes that are known to result in violence.

“We hope the report’s recommendations force the government, businesses, law enforcement and trade unions to act together to develop a strategy to protect all shop workers.”

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