Written evidence submitted by Sainsbury’s (VTR0019)

About Sainsbury’s

  1. Sainsbury’s is a multi-brand, multi-channel retailer incorporating Sainsbury’s Supermarkets, Argos, Sainsbury’s Bank, Habitat and Nectar. We are the second largest retailer in the UK, with around 172,000 colleagues, 2,400 stores and a significant online business.  Our stores provide a vital source of employment across the UK and are an important presence in local communities. 


  1. Please find below a written submission concerning the inquiry into violence and abuse experienced by Sainsbury’s store colleagues, prepared by our Crime and Security Management and Business Protection team.


  1. It describes a year on year increase in violence towards our store colleagues, with serious physical assaults trending upwards and 4,500 incidents involving a weapon reported across the Sainsburys estate in 2020. It also describes the increase in verbal abuse directed towards colleagues since the introduction of COVID restrictions, particularly relating to social distancing and asking customers to wear masks.


  1. We conclude by offering a summary of the precautions our business is taking to keep colleagues safe, the financial costs being incurred to do so, and the need for graver consequences for offenders.


  1. Violence and aggression are increasing year on year, with serious physical assaults trending upwards.


  1. Walk into any of our stores and approach any member of staff, and it is highly likely they will be able to tell you about a time when they were abused in the workplace or witnessed it. Our colleagues will encounter hundreds of polite, friendly customers on a daily basis but years later, many will be able to recall incidents that had a significant impact on their work environment – incidents ranging from verbal abuse and physical altercations, to armed robberies and stabbings.


  1. On a daily basis, our colleagues face into a number of personal safety risks relating to verbal and physical abuse. This is predominantly driven by shoplifting offences but has also been triggered by everyday tasks such as asking customers for ID when they are buying age-restricted products. Many of our colleagues feel that verbal abuse is ‘business as usual’, due to the regularity of its occurrence. Some of our most serious incidents have involved colleagues being stabbed, head-butted, and knocked unconscious.


  1. Most violent incidents that occur in our stores result in a colleague being the victim.


  1. Our own surveys have shown that regardless of the severity of the incident, the impact it has on a colleagues’ wellbeing is the same. Upon being spoken to after an incident, our colleagues described their feelings as being ’frightened’, ‘scared’, and ‘fearful’.  Colleagues commonly used these words, regardless of the severity and irrespective to if it was related to a verbal attack or being victim of an armed robbery.


  1. In 2020 there were more than 4,500 violent incidents involving a weapon across the Sainsbury’s estate.


  1. Incidents where there was physical sighting of a weapon have increased by more than a third this year and continue on an upward trend. Common weapons reported include knives, machetes, blades, needles, scissors, and screwdrivers. The majority of incidents involving a weapon involve them being brandished by a customer or a colleague being threatened by them, rather than actually used. Such incidents are often in response to colleagues challenging shoplifters. Regardless of whether the weapon is seen or used, this still creates an environment of fear and worry for colleagues.


Find below a variety of extracts concerning incidents in stores.


  1. ‘An offender concealed alcohol with intent to steal, and noticed a female colleague completing daily tasks near the exit. The offender walked up and unprovoked punched her in the stomach, causing her to fall into the barriers. The colleague was eight months pregnant at the time of the attack. ‘


  1. Our convenience stores experience the highest proportion of all violent incidents – headcount in these stores is significantly less, and serious incidents can affect an entire team. Offences like this are bad enough for our colleagues, but they then have to return back to their place of work, day after day, with a constant reminder of their experience. For our stores in higher risk locations, where incidents are more prevalent, the problem is even more acute.  


  1. ‘A known shoplifter filled a trolley with goods and attempted to walk out without payment. When challenged, the customer became very aggressive, damaging the sanitising station and being verbally abusive. The security officer detained the offender to prevent further damage. The offender started to calm down however shortly after head-butted a member of staff, knocking them unconscious.’


  1. A large percentage of incidents have occurred when shoplifters are being stopped or deterred. Stores are plagued by ‘repeat’, ‘regular’ offenders who habitually instigate violence and abuse towards our colleagues. More than half of the violent incidents that occur in our stores are carried out by known offenders and banned shoplifters. Many of them targeting our stores are known to have violent tendencies or carry weapons such as knives and needles, making colleagues feel scared to enforce banning procedures. Additionally, managers are struggling to process banning orders effectively for known offenders under current Covid-19 restrictions.


The impact of Covid-19 restrictions


  1. At the beginning of the year during peak Covid-19 restrictions, we saw an increase in verbal abuse towards colleagues relating to social-distancing. Increasingly, this now extends to mask-wearing. Levels of anti-social behaviour linked to Covid-19 have been steady throughout the year, and we have seen a number of physical assaults in which our colleagues have been coughed on or spat at whilst trying to enforce government guidelines. Many of the offenders doing this have claimed to have COVID-19 when they carried out the assault, causing further upset and worry to colleagues trying to do their job.


  1. ‘A known offender entered the store, recognised by a manager who waited at the exit doors for them to leave. The offender went behind them, placed a carrier bag over her head and pulled her to the floor. ‘


Summary of measures we’re taking to promote colleague safety


  1. We know our colleagues feel safer with a physical security presence in store, but to avoid complete reliance on this, we now adopt a more blended approach to colleague safety, utilising technology such as body-worn cameras, personal safety devices and remote CCTV. Sainsbury’s support our highest risk stores with security officers and have a team ensuring data-led decisions are being made every day so colleagues’ safety is being effectively managed and prioritised.  All colleagues complete mandatory conflict management training, and we have a Security Operations Centre available 24 hours a day to support our store colleagues through incidents and gather intelligence to support arrests being made by the police. These precautions being taken by the business to keep our colleagues safe have a huge financial cost. In our opinion, in summary, it isn’t being balanced with sufficient consequences or penalties for offenders.


January 2021