Co-op Group wins Grocer Gold Business Initiative of the Year 2020

The award was given for the retailer’s Safer Colleagues Safer Communities campaign

The Co-op Group’s Safer Colleagues, Safer Communities campaign has been awarded the Grocer Gold Business Initiative of the Year 2020, for its three-stage plan to tackle retail crime.

An Usdaw survey of 5,000 retail staff found that six in 10 shopworkers experienced verbal abuse at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, while 28% were threatened. This was reflected in the Co-op Group’s own figures: in one week it recorded 990 incidents of antisocial behaviour and verbal abuse, as Covid restrictions proved a trigger for incidents. Earlier this year, the Group warned of a store crime epidemic unless the Government urgently introduced new legislation to provide staff with greater protection.

But the Group’s campaign work in this area began before Covid-19. The Safer Colleagues, Safer Communities campaign was officially launched in December 2018. It is led by retail chief executive Jo Whitfield, with three strands of activity: protect colleagues against an immediate threat, lobbying the government for greater protection of retail workers, and tackling crime in local communities.

Jo Whitfield, retail chief executive at the Co-op Group, with the Grocer Gold Business Initiative of the Year 2020 award

“This has been a huge effort by many people across our organisation,” said Ms Whitfield, accepting the award. “We recognised that there were things we could do ourselves and there were broader societal issues.”

Over the last two years, the Co-op Group has invested in “industry-leading technology and support systems” in its stores, from Smart Water systems at ATMs, fog cannons which disperse fog when activated by staff members and body cams for staff which can capture real-time audio and visual feeds when activated.

Government protection for retail workers is growing in momentum too. In September, the Scottish government unanimously voted for a new law to protect shopworkers from violence. And in July, the Home Office unveiled new steps to crack down on crime, including working with the National Retail Crime Steering Group on a best practice guide to support staff in reporting crimes, strengthening and making full use of existing laws, and improving data sharing between businesses and the police. There will be a second read of Labour MP Alex Norris’ private member’s bill to counter shopworker violence in January 2021. 

“The UK government do acknowledge the issue [but] it’s been a very busy year and we haven’t really got the momentum that we’ve been looking for just yet – we expect that to really kick off in earnest in January,” added Ms Whitfield.

The Group is helping to tackle crime in local communities through “researching to understand the causes, and what might steer people away from crime and give them better outcomes,” says Ms Whitfield. Through its Local Community Fund, the organisation has given more than £5.5m to over 1,600 UK groups tackling the root causes of crime.

The Group has spent £70m in tackling crime and has committed to spending the same amount over the next three years.

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