Outrage swept across the nation last Sunday, as Marks and Spencer announced they will give their Muslim employees the right to refuse service to anyone purchasing pork or alcohol.
Outrage swept across the nation last Sunday, as Marks and Spencer announced they will give their Muslim employees the right to refuse service to anyone purchasing pork or alcohol. A surge of fury took over social media sites as many people expressed how ridiculous this new policy was, vowing never to shop with M&S again. A separate website was even set up, calling on shoppers to boycott the store.
The main outlet for the public’s rage was Twitter, where people posted links to articles detailing the new rules that: “Muslim checkout staff at Marks and Spencer have been told they can refuse to serve customers alcohol and pork products.”
Like most, I saw these headlines and was shocked. How insane, I thought, to give priority to one belief alone! Do Marks and Spencer not realise the resentment and division this could cause between communities?
As I scrolled through my Twitter feed, it became apparent that pretty much everyone felt the same way about M&S’s new policy. The majority of tweets expressed anger at M&S itself, however a few felt to target the Muslim shop workers for which the new rules are in place for:
Muslims who don’t want to sell alcohol or pork are unfit for work in M&S or any other grocers. Simple as that. http://t.co/tsqjnSdchk
— Alexander Trafford (@alextrafford) December 22, 2013
In all the pieces I’ve read about the policy, I couldn’t find any statement that this was anyone other than Marks and Spencer’s decision as a company. No-where does it say that Muslims employees have called for new rules to be put in place or else they won’t serve customers…
Admittedly there must have been some smaller incidents which led the retailer to introduce broader rules, with a spokesperson for the store stating, “M&S promotes an environment free from discrimination and so, where specific requests are made, we will always make reasonable adjustments to accommodate them.”
This makes complete sense, however I believe it would have been more reasonable to treat these “specific requests” individually, rather than implementing nation-wide policies that are sure to cause controversy.
For example, when other supermarkets were asked to comment on the new M&S rules, the response was comparable across the board. Sainsbury’s said there is no reason why staff who do not use specific products themselves cannot sell them and similarly, Tesco said it tries to treat each case independently, but that it “made no sense” to hire staff who cannot touch certain foods. These are sentiments that many people on Twitter echoed:
— Andrew McNeilis (@andrewmcneilis) December 22, 2013
Ridiculous from M&S – http://t.co/fHl9FrEusa should Christian staff refuse to work Sunday shifts then?
— John Sparrow (@jdotsparrow) December 22, 2013
— Zarina (@zarina_a_) December 22, 2013
These comments certainly have serious implications – if exceptions are made for one faith, surely it won’t be long before there are calls to implement regulations to support all religious and cultural ideologies.
Not only have Marks and Spencer favoured just one belief system (aside from a small mention that Jewish staff may also refuse to serve pork), the policy also raises the question of whether religious beliefs should be held in higher regard than personal beliefs. Could, for example, a vegan refuse to serve customers wishing to purchase eggs, milk, or leather clothing? The argument needn’t stop in retail – why shouldn’t a Christian schoolteacher have the right to refuse to teach their science class about the Big Bang and the theory of evolution?
— Karl (@ZionistWolf) December 22, 2013
Hypothetically of course, if these requests were granted, the list of who can and cannot handle certain products would be endless. Someone against animal testing could refuse to sell certain cosmetics, a feminist could refuse to touch a lad’s magazine – it sounds ridiculous, but as M&S said, they try to ‘accommodate specific requests to avoid discrimination’ – who knows where the line of cultural equality would be drawn?
What do you think? Is Marks and Spencer’s new policy a good idea, or is it simply a gateway for the introduction of more rules to suit other employees? Comment below!
Image: ell brown / Flickr