Co-op highlights rise in violence towards staff in new report

The Co-op has published a new report highlighting an alarming rise in violence towards the staff of its stores, with both shoplifting and abuse significantly increasing in 2023.

The company said that there were 336,270 incidents of shoplifting, abuse, violence and anti-social behaviour across Co-op’s 2,400 stores during 2023, up 44 per cent year-over-year and representing around 1,000 incidents every day across its 2,400 stores.

Staff also experienced 41,875 incidents of anti-social behaviour and verbal abuse (37 per cent YOY increase), and over 1,325 physical assaults against store workers in 2023 (up 34 per cent YOY).

The report, commissioned by Co-op, and written by Emmeline Taylor, professor of Criminology at City, University of London, sets out a ten point plan which the company said is “focused on turning the tide on prolific offenders and building on advancements seen to address the alarming increase in crime, violence, intimidation and abuse that continues to beset the retail sector, blight communities and wreak physical and mental harm on store workers”.

Chief among the report’s recommendations is to make attacking a shopworker a stand-alone offence, with Co-op urging MPs to back the amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill which is soon to be debated in Parliament. The company has encouraged its 57,000 colleagues, and five million Member-owners to write to their MP to back the Bill amendment, it said.

The report also draws a parallel between shop theft and use of Class A drugs, with it suggesting that effectively tackling this group of repeat offenders will have a large impact on reducing retail crime, and its “pervasive impact on society”.

The retailer said that it welcomed the introduction of the Retail Crime Action Plan last October, and has witnessed early signs of progress, but calls on police and lawmakers to go further in tackling retail theft.

Matt Hood, managing director at Co-op Food, said: “We are seeing far too many prolific offenders persistently steal large volumes of products, in our shops every day, and, if they are stealing to fund addictions, the situation often becomes volatile and dangerous. Crime is an occupation for some – it is not petty crime, and it is not victimless. 

“It is imperative MPs don’t turn their backs on shopworkers, and vote through the amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill to give my colleagues the protection they deserve.”

While this report demonstrates that retail crime has increased, the topic has become a contentious one both in the UK and abroad.

James Kehoe, the chief financial officer at US pharmacy giant Walgreens (which also owns Boots in the UK) in early 2023 admitted that the company “cried too much” about the prevalence of retail crime, with reports of a ‘crimewave’ across the US being used by conservative politicians as justification to increase police budgets – particularly in lower-income areas.

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