On Marks & Spencer’s policy on pork and alcohol sales [updated]

Update It is now being reported that M&S policy is not to allow those working on tills to refuse to sell pork or alcohol.  Although one incident seemed to suggest this was the case, it has been asserted that this represented a misapplication of the guidelines.  Their more usual practice is simply to help accommodate workers by placing them in roles where such issues won’t arise.  Khola Hasan, speaking on the Today programme before M&S clarified its policy, voiced her misgivings about going to such lengths to accommodate religious beliefs.

Also – here’s the Daily Mail reporting on a range of Muslims speaking out against the (non) policy.


Several recent news items would probably irritate me still more if I were Muslim.  Inviting the unspeakable Anjem Choudhary onto the Today Programme is the most obvious example.  Another was a story about a painting being removed from the Swedish parliament because it might offend Muslims or feminists. Commenters at the Commentator seemed to have been reading a different article from me, one which reported Muslim complaints – as far as I know, none had been made.

Marks and Spencer’s policy that Muslim employees should be allowed not to serve pork and alcohol may seem designed to help Muslims but is likely to have quite different (unintended) consequences.  In a large business like M&S it may well be possible to accommodate individual concerns and tastes of all kinds unobtrusively. But its present policy (assuming it has been reported correctly) goes beyond moving a pious individual sideways to home furnishings.

At M&S, Muslim staff who do not wish to handle alcohol or pork have been told they can politely request that customers choose another till at which to pay.

This really hasn’t been thought through.  Imagine queuing at a till for a long time, perhaps having many item scanned, and then having to move elsewhere because the assistant suddenly realizes there’s a pack of bacon in the trolley. (Although I am sure many Muslim employees would not ask them to move in these circumstances, and that not all welcome this policy or find it necessary.)

If misgivings about such products are to be treated so respectfully, why should not vegan employees or those with objections to a particular country’s government, also be accommodated?  Such beliefs might be just as deeply held.

In any case, from a very religious (Muslim) perspective it might be argued that working for a store which profited from the sale of alcohol and pork was not acceptable even if one was not personally serving these items.  Looking at Muslim forums I have found that opinion expressed – while at the other end of spectrum some Muslims think it is acceptable to sell the products to others as long as one doesn’t eat/drink them oneself.

As is very apparent from many of the comments under the Telegraph report, this policy, as currently formulated, is a gift to the EDL.