M&S, perhaps Britain’s most popular retail chain, appears to have run into rough weather at a time when Christmas shoppers are on a particularly frenzied buying spree in the last two days before the big day.
The Sunday Telegraph published a story that claimed that M&S had a specific policy that gave Muslim employees the right to refuse serving alcohol or pork if their religion proscribed them from doing so. The story was picked up by the rest of the media, and by shoppers online — the latter through social media networks, fuming at what they claimed was a ridiculous concession to political correctness.
M&S responded with a statement in which it expressed regret over particular incident that the newspaper reported, where a customer was refused service. It apologised for “any resulting confusion” in what they claimed was “an isolated incident.”
The statement added that the shop “offers an inclusive, secular environment for employees and customers, working closely with any employee with religious beliefs of any denomination that restrict specific food or drink handling.”
It claimed that specific requests from any employee to accommodate his or her religious belief are “considered on a case-by-case basis and may lead to an individual working in a department where conflicts wouldn’t arise, such as in clothing or bakery in foods”.
On Monday, the media, or more accurately a section of the media, reported the statement and apology as evidence of a surrender by the company that was forced to withdraw a standing policy — an interpretation that an M&S spokesperson denied. “The incident reported in The Sunday Telegraph was a one-off,” the spokesperson told The Hindu. “But there has been a misunderstanding. We do not have a different policy for Muslim employees, but we do our best to accommodate the particular religious sensibilities of our employees, providing that it does not affect our business,” she said.
The spokesperson refused to comment on the damage — in Christmas footfalls or brand image — for the giant retailer, which has an employee base of 82,000, and reported revenues of £ 4880.9 million and a profit before tax of £ 280.6 million in September 2013.