Marks and Spencer faced a backlash today after customers became aware of a new policy, which allows their Muslim staff to refuse to sell pork or alcohol to the public. Angry customers, some of whom have been patrons of the stores for decades, threatened to boycott the store after they had to wait until another member of staff became available to serve them.
One such customer who was shopping at a London branch of M&S said: “I had one bottle of champagne, and the lady, who was wearing a headscarf, was very apologetic but said she could not serve me. She told me to wait until another member of staff was available. I was taken aback. I’ve never come across that before.”
However last night Marks & Spencer denied that this was the stores’ policy and said that the advice had been given in error. The damage it seems had already been done, with customers calling the complaints department and taking to the retailers Facebook page to complain. There has also been another separate site set up calling on M&S customers to start boycotting the store, until the policy is removed.
One customer wrote: “If you have Christian workers who wish to refuse the sale of ladies’ garments to male homosexuals or men’s trousers to lesbians, I do hope you will stand by those workers’ religious or personal beliefs. My family and I shall no longer purchase any goods from your company due to the implementation of this “one rule system” that creates further division and hatred within our communities.” Whilst another added: “If M&S go ahead with this they are going to lose so many loyal customers. If they do not want to serve people with pork or alcohol they shouldn’t work in the food hall. Simple!”
Other disgruntled shoppers took to the store’s Facebook page: “I shan’t be shopping in M&S any more. The quintessentially British retailer bows down to Muslim beliefs. And in turn alienates the majority of Christian and non-religious customers. Outrageous.”
The policy that M&S are seemingly adopting seems to have divided the other supermarkets, with Asda agreeing, saying that it would not deploy Muslims on a till if they objected to handling certain items. But both Sainsburys and Tesco disagreed, stating that in their opinions, there was no reason for staff who do not drink alcohol or eat pork to not be able to touch the items.
Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Bishop of Rochester, said: “If supermarkets do not put up a notice saying “This desk does not handle alcoholic beverages”, shoppers could be humiliated when they get to the checkout.’
A spokesperson for M&S spokesman said: “Customer service is our priority. Where we have an employee whose religious beliefs restrict food or drink they can handle, we work closely with our member of staff to place them in a suitable role, such as in our clothing department or bakery. We regret that in the case highlighted today we were not following our own policy. As a secular business we have an inclusive policy that welcomes all religious beliefs. This policy has been in place for many years, and when followed correctly, we do not believe that it should compromise our ability to offer the highest level of customer service. We apologise that this policy was not followed in the case reported.”