Marks & Spencer Apologizes Over Muslim Staff Controversy; Move Triggers Social Media Rebuke

on December 27 2013 4:00 AM
Marks & Spencer
A customer leaves a Marks & Spencer shop in central London May 21, 2013. British retailer Marks & Spencer posted its lowest annual profit since 2009 on Tuesday as a struggling general merchandise division dragged on growth in food sales. Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett

Marks & Spencer (LON:MKS) apologized to its customers after a Muslim checkout employee refused to sell a bottle of champagne stating religious reasons. The British retailer's policies allow employees to refuse to serve customers buying alcohol and pork, if it is forbidden by their religion.

The company's policy was first reported by the Daily Telegraph following angry protests from holiday shoppers when a customer at a London store, on Monday, was asked to wait by a Muslim employee until another counter was available for billing the bottle of champagne.

“I had one bottle of champagne, and the lady, who was wearing a headscarf, was very apologetic, but said she could not serve me. She told me to wait until another member of the staff was available,” the unnamed customer said, according to reports.

Many customers were in the store buying alcohol in preparation for Christmas and all were asked to wait. The issue snowballed as thousands of customers threatened to boycott the store, forcing Marks & Spencer to apologize for the incident and stating that it would assign different job profiles to Muslim employees. 

“Customer service is our number-one priority. We regret that in the highlighted case this was not delivered to our usual standards,” a statement released by the company said, according to reports. “We would like to apologize for any resulting confusion and reassure our customers that this was an isolated incident.”

However, the apology led to the creation of a new Facebook page titled, “Boycott Marks and Spencer’s” where numerous users voiced their disapproval of the retailer and its policies.

One person wrote: “M&S if you read this you have gone over the top. If you have Christian workers who wish to refuse the sale of ladies garments to male homosexuals or men's trousers to lesbians, I do hope you will equally stand by those workers' religious or personal beliefs.”

While another user wrote: "I commend M&S for leading the way in tolerence of religious beliefs in the work place. May this same tolerance now be shown to ALL religions..."

"Apparently M&S stores have been rather empty today although lots of shoppers out and about.. nice to see people are protesting with the feet and going elsewhere to shop," posted another person on the Facebook page today. 

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