Tesco chief executive Ken Murphy has called for a change in the law to make abuse or violence towards retail workers an offence across the UK.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Mr Murphy revealed the supermarket chain has offered body-worn cameras to members of staff who need them after seeing physical assaults rise by a third in a year.
He said Tesco has invested £44 million in four years on security measures including door access systems, protection screens and digital radios, as well as the cameras, but called for more to be done against offenders.
“Money spent on making sure people are safe at work is always well spent,” he said. “But it should not have to be like this. Crime is a scourge on society and an insult to shoppers and retail workers.
“These people are small in number but have a disproportionate impact.”
Saying it is “time we put an end to it”, he labelled the rise in incidents as “unacceptable” and the impact on workers “heartbreaking”.
“I want those who break the law in our stores brought to book,” he said. “After a long campaign by retailers and the union Usdaw, last year the Government made attacking shop workers an aggravating factor in convictions – meaning offenders should get longer sentences.
“Judges should make use of this power. But we need to go further, as in Scotland, and make abuse or violence towards retail workers an offence in itself.”
He also called for better links with police forces and for businesses to be given a right to know how a case is proceeding when someone commits a crime in one of their stores.
“This would help us to spot patterns and provide reassurance that justice is being done,” he said.
“Gangs take advantage of the fact we do not share enough information. We’ll only be able to stop these thugs if we work together.”
Usdaw General Secretary, Paddy Lillis, welcomed Mr Murphy’s intervention and called for any staff wearing cameras to be “properly trained”.
He said: “Our annual survey found that three-quarters of retail workers suffered abuse from customers, with far too many experiencing threats and violence. Theft from shops was the trigger for nearly a third of these incidents last year and it is very worrying that the latest official statistics show that shoplifting increased by 24% last year. So the situation is getting worse and action is needed.
“We are working with employers like Tesco to ensure better protection for shopworkers. There is no doubt that body-worn cameras do have a deterrent effect and we are supportive of such measures aimed at reducing violence, threats and abuse at work. Staff wearing cameras need to be properly trained and the public must be fully aware they are in use, to act as a deterrent to would-be attackers.
“Faced with such appallingly high levels of violence and abuse much more needs to be done. There must be better coordination to ensure that government, retail employers, police and the courts work together to help protect shopworkers, giving them the respect they deserve.”