Crime campaign

Safer colleagues, safer communities

Our safer colleagues, safer communities campaign is focussed on tackling crime and violence and protecting our colleagues.

"Nothing is more important than protecting our colleagues now and in the future" - Jo Whitfield, Retail Chief Executive.

Our Safer Colleagues Safer Communities report sets out why tackling crime against our colleagues and the communities in which they live is so important to us. It also sets out what we will be doing in the coming months and years ahead to tackle it. Have a look at this film to see more.

The Co-op operated in almost every community in the UK and our 4.6m members live in those communities. In December 2018, our National Members Council voted for Safer Colleagues, Safer Communities to become an official Co-op campaign. Our members made it clear that by campaigning through Safer Colleagues, Safer Communities to keep colleagues safe in store, the Co-op should also be campaigning to tackle the causes of crime in communities which is driving what we want to see in those stores.

Safer Colleagues, Safer Communities campaign has been split into three elements:

  1. Operational Action
  2. Campaigning Action
  3. Community Action

Operational Action


Over the last three years the Co-op has invested £70m in security, crime prevention and colleague safety measures. Our Annual General Meeting in May 2019 committed the Co-op to maintain this level of funding on security, crime prevention and colleague safety for the next three years.


A key area for the Co-op has been in-store connectivity, which enables colleagues to talk to each other in different parts of our stores and to others who can help in circumstances where there is an incident. We have spent £4.5m on new headsets which are now in all of our stores.

We have also rolled our tablet devices to all of our stores which allow colleagues to spend more time on the shop floor, rather than in the back office. This allows us to provide a better service to our members and customers on the shop floor, but it also helps our colleagues feel more connected.


We have recognised that traditional CCTV does not provide pro-active support to our colleagues. We have developed a partnership with a third party supplier that specialises in technological innovation in security including intelligent CCTV (iCCTV). iCCTV is one of the most sophisticated and leading-edge approaches to protecting colleagues as it allows us to proactively target persistant shoplifters and work with the police to reduce the impact to our colleagues. We have installed iCCTV in around 600 of our stores, and we are in the process of rolling it out to a further 400.


We are currently testing additional forensic deterrents across our food stores. SmartWater™ fog systems are mainly located close to the entrances of our stores and are really effective in the kiosk areas, which are typically targets of crime. Once activated, a dense fog obscures the intruder’s vision making it increasingly difficult for them to leave the store. It also covers the criminal in a spray containing a unique forensic signature. Guaranteed to last at least five years and invisible to the naked eye, this signature spray help police to track criminals and stolen goods which can then lead to increased conviction rates.


From September 2018 we introduced a new system for colleagues called My Safety. Colleagues can report to us from their own device, the store tablet or the store computer. MySafety allows us to respond more effectively to individual incidents and to analyse our issues so that we can make effective investments on where best to put in place preventive solutions and support colleagues affected.


We encourage and support our colleagues to contact Lifeworks, our counselling team who assist and aid colleagues impacted and ensure they receive the right level of emotional support. This is in addition to a dedicated Response and Resilience Team based within our support centre who are on hand to provide post-incident support to our colleagues.

Campaigning Action

We were delighted to support Usdaw’s Respect for Shop Workers Week in November 2018. As part of our support we hosted 48 MPs in our stores during the campaign week. The visits helped MPs to understand the realities our colleagues face and highlight our determination to protect those colleagues. We will be supporting this week again in 2019, so check back here for more detail.

In October 2018 we supported David Hanson MP’s amendments to the Offensive Weapons Bill, which would make attacks on shop workers who are selling age- restricted goods an offence that would carry heavier sentences. We hosted guest blogs from David Hanson MP and from Alex Norris MP providing opportunities for colleagues and members to add their voices by petitioning their local MP to support the amendments. In April, an opportunity arose for some targeted engagement with MPs, so we wrote to over 60 MPs and sent them a tailored, constituency specific briefing ahead of a Westminster Hall debate that was led by Rt Hon David Hanson MP.

The debate had a specific focus on shoplifting as well as aggressive and violent behavious and we were mentioned by a number of MPs who we had sent briefings to.

We will continue to use the leading position that we have built to continue to influence Parliament and Government to provide greater protection for shopworkers.

Home Office Call for evidence

In April 2019, the Home Office published a call for evidence asking for the views of organisations and individuals to aid their understanding of the problem of violence and abuse toward shop staff in England and Wales. At the Co-op, we encouraged our colleagues to respond to this call for evidence and share their stories. Over 600 Co-op colleagues shared their personal testimonies with the Home Office, and some of them are shown in this video.

Alongside the powerful and shocking testimonies submitted by colleagues, the Co-op submitted a business response which included 10 recommendations to Government. These recommendations can be found here.

Jo Whitfield, our Co-op’s Retail Chief Executive has been clear since the start of this campaign that “Nothing is more important than protecting our colleagues now and in the future” and she showed this again when she appeared on the BBC breakfast sofa talking about the reality of what our colleagues face day-in day-out, detailing what we are doing at the Co-op to take action and invest in the safety of our colleagues, and call on the Government to prioritise retail crime, better protect our colleagues through tougher sanctions for offenders and community investment to tackle the causes of crime.

We regularly engage with the government on this campaign and have offered our support where we feel that we have the assets to address the crime that we see in all of our communities.

Dr Emmeline Taylor Research

Early on in this campaign, we commissioned Dr Emmeline Taylor to produce research on both the impact of violence on shop workers and the motivations of offenders. This research was launched at the House of Commons on 10 September 2019. Read the full report It's not part of the job report.

Community Action

Through our Local Community Fund we’ve already given £4.3m to more than 1,600 causes across the UK who are tackling the causes of crime. At the Co-op we believe – as Jo Whitfield, the CEO of our Food business said in aletter to the Home Secretary of 4 March 2019 – that businesses have a critical role to play in tackling the root causes of crime in society: * I would urge you to remember… the role private businesses can play both to create an environment which deters violence but also how we can help communities and individuals take different choices." *

At our 2019 AGM, members voted in favour of a motion that not only called for the Co-op to maintain levels of funding for crime prevention, security and colleagues safety but also to build on increased support to community groups who tackle the root causes of violent crime to help individuals in those communities to reach their full potential.

We believe that businesses have assets which can be used to address the issues communities and societies face. Those assets may be financial, professional expertise, leveraging supply chains or advocacy support. At our 2019 AGM, Jo Whitfield announced a partnership between the Co-op and the Damilola Taylor Trust. We will be sponsoring a programme run by the trust that helps young people acquire skills to help them find employment.

The programme supports young people who may be far from work and helps them develop the skills to be able to work and realise their potential. We believe our new partnership will provide a model for how business can support experts on the ground. The funding we will provide will enable delivery of the programme and is being complemented by additional pro bono support from our professional services and from colleagues who are volunteering on the programme. More detail can be found here. This funding is in addition to the £4,000 funding already provided through the Co-op’s Local Community Fund.

Community partnerships can be very successful as we have seen in the work we have done in Chorlton, South Manchester. The partnership has allowed us to adapt our strategy in order to suit the locality. The relationships we have with Greater Manchester Police and Chorlton High School provide us with the opportunity to work with young people who were shoplifting, to educate them through restorative justice rather than criminalising individuals at a young age. Our relationship with the police has allowed us to utilise the resources of the local policing team to provide police patrols, including police vehicles, in the vicinity of stores.

In June 2019 we announced a partnership with the Edge Theatre Company in Manchester to support a cohort of people through skills based programmes that includes managing group conflict, literacy skills, confidence and self-esteem which provides an alternative to negative activity. This will help tackle the root cause of crime as the people who are supported by the programme have a range of complex needs including severe mental health issues, drug and alcohol addiction or homelessness.


None of us can afford to throw away good food. That’s why our stores give products that are going out of date to local community groups at the end of each day.

Through Foodshare, we are helping to tackle the root causes of crime linked to poverty by maximising our reach to communities. This allows focus to be spent on helping more people.


In March 2019 we took the decision to stop selling kitchen knives in our stores.

At our 2019 AGM we announced a partnership with Steel Warriors, who focus on taking knives off the streets to create callisthenic gyms that communities can use to develop their skills as well as improve their mental and physical health. We are confident that this initiative will also help tackle the root causes of crime.