Private Religious and Public Secular Spaces


Islamophobia, or the customer is always right, or a politically correct HR policy with bad execution at the counter? All this and more over the Marks & Spencer furore in the UK recenty. A Muslim staff refused to sell alcohol to a paying customer and this cause a storm in the pre-Christmas shopping period, and M&S has already apologised for the action of its staff as damage control to prevent a further boycott. Some valid questions were posed – a vegetarian can refuse to sell meat next, or a Christian can refuse to serve a gay customer? One customer voted with his wallet and spent hundreds of pounds at Tesco’s instead in boycott of M&S’ policy of allowing its staff to put his own religious interests first. So who is forcing whose religious beliefs on the other? A sales staff citing religion as his right, refuses to serve someone. This sounds plausible in a family-run establishment but in a big store or corporation? Should that person be hired as a staff in a secular company in the first place if he or she cannot check his religious expectations? However, maybe this is all a storm in a teacup and one Muslim M&S staff’s puritanism does not really mean anything.

When will this puritanism regardless of religion, reach Singapore, if ever? Or it already has in less obvious ways. Should the interests and convenience of the majority always come first? The tyranny of the majority argument. The majority can play the needs of the many over the few card. However, minority groups should know their place and just accept it rather than complain about it all the time? The tantrums of the minority argument. The minority can play the discrimination card. Or as usual in life, the reality is always somewhere in between and what matters is secularism, not whether it is a question of the majority or the minority.

M&S apology over Muslim staff policy

Marks and Spencer says shoppers won’t be refused alcohol by staff as it claims a failure to follow internal policy led to a shopper being told to queue elsewhere because a Muslim worker couldn’t serve them alcohol

Customers at Marks and Spencer will not be refused alcohol or pork by Muslim staff after the store reacted to a massive backlash by customers.

Thousands of shoppers threatened to boycott the retailer after Marks and Spencer said it would allow Muslim staff to refuse to sell pork and alcohol because it was against their religious beliefs.

But now Marks and Spencer has apologised and said that Muslim staff who did not want to handle these products would not man tills and would work in other roles such as in clothing or in the bakery.

The issue was revealed after customers at a London branch of Marks and Spencer were told they would have to use another till because the assistant would not be able to serve them pork or alcohol.

At the time Marks and Spencer said staff could refuse to sell these items, based on their religious beliefs.

This led to a huge backlash by thousands of customers who threatened to boycott the store.

Marks and Spencer last night apologised and said it had made a mistake and was not following its internal policies.

In a statement, Marks and Spencer said: “Where we have an employee whose religious beliefs restrict food or drink they can handle, we work closely with our member of staff to place them in suitable role, such as in our clothing department or bakery in foods.

“We regret that in the case highlighted today we were not following our own internal policy.”

Angry customers created a Facebook page, calling on others to boycott the retailer. Some claimed it was creating “division” in communities while others said if this policy was followed they would have to allow Christians who opposed homosexuality to refuse to serve gay customers.

After Marks and Spencer issued its updated statement shoppers posted comments on the Facebook page, saying they had apologised too late.

Michelle Woof wrote: “Marks and spencers have lost my custom this year and forever.ridiculous company run by jobsworths hope the retail sales this xmas at marks and spencers are bad.”

And Alan Skinner said: “We have boycotted M&S today over their policy and did our £400 Christmas food and drink shop at Tesco (instead of M&S) at 06.00 this morning.”

One response

  1. Religious freedom in the UK and USA et Europe should universally condemn and put a stop to staffers who refuse to see pork or alcohol on their own private religious faith,why should the free market denied such goods and services ? It’s rather like Roman Catholics committed to no birth controls refuse to sell condoms and birth contraception pills !In France Muslim students attending public schools are ogre red not to wear their bulkier or chardor head-dress as it has nothing to do with going to schools or universities ,the Muslims can do that as her religious practice at mosques or at home ! the employment contracts should clearly specify that no goods or services are barred from service by their employees,they are not asked to sell Muslim Femme or Hommes as prostitutes for Pete’s sake ! Why don’t they go to Saudi Arabia or any Islamic Country that bar sale of pork,alcohol and cigarettes ? Britain is a very tolerant country and Marks et Spencer’s I know personally to be a very good departmental store with good policies ! allowing the private religious practicing Islamic Employees to deny their customers is anti- free market and anti-productive and intolerant of other religions of their customers ! Do the Islamic Employees understand Freedom of thoughts and of the Free Market ? What’s the point of them being the UK/USA /Europe and anywhere else ?

    Gerald CW Heng Sr.
    Washingtone DC USA

    December 25, 2013 at 7:50 am

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