Crime campaign

Safer colleagues, safer communities

Our safer colleagues, safer communities campaign is focused 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. Watch this video for more information.

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.

Since the launch of the campaign, we have put in place a number of operational changes, we have supported a number of community groups and we have lobbied for change. The detail of what we have done is set out in this report: Safer Colleagues Safer Communities one year on.

The 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 persistent 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 helps 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 center who are on hand to provide post-incident support to our colleagues.

Campaigning Action

Respect for shop workers 2018

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.

Respect for Shopworkers 2019

We continued to support Usdaw’s Respect for Shopworkers week in November 2019, with a joint launch summit in Westminster. London Mayor, Sadiq Khan joined our Retail CEO, Jo Whitfield and Usdaw’s Deputy General Secretary, Dave McCrossen to launch the summit, which was attended by over 70 people from other Co-op societies, 30 leading businesses and the police.

Respect for Shop workers week 2019 fell during a General Election campaigning period, and due to Co-op policy, we did not host any candidates in our stores. We invited a number of Police and Crime commissioners into our stores to encourage them to include retail crime in their local crime plans. Over 25% of all Police and Crime Commissioners visited Co-op stores in their police force area during Respect for Shop workers week.

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.

During the General Election campaign of 2019, we still had not received a response to the call for evidence and Jo Whitfield sent an open letter to all party leaders, asking them to take violence and abuse against shopworkers seriously.

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

At the start of the Safer Colleagues Safer Communities 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. It shows that this abuse is having lasting effects on the lives of workers, both mentally and physically. The research shows that because of the frequency of violence and abuse, shopworkers are now suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Read the full It's not part of the job report.

On 12 May 2021, Dr Emmeline Taylor launched a new piece of research at an online parliamentary event co-hosted by Alex Norris MP and Jo Whitfield. This latest research, 'Breaking the Cycle: Gaining the views of criminal justice practitioners and retail offenders on effective sentencing' offers a response to the white paper 'A Smarter Approach to Sentencing and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill', and provides clear opportunities to encourage the government to legislate to protect and support shopworkers.

Community Action

Through our Local Community Fund we’ve already given £5.5m to over 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.


  • PDF Young people and the future report (PDF, 50 pages, 1.3 MB)
  • PDF Retail Violence, attacked and abused at work report May 2020 (PDF, 19 pages, 5 MB)
  • PDF Safer Colleagues Safer Communities (PDF, 16 pages, 1.2MB)
  • PDF Safer Colleagues Safer Communities One Year On (PDF, 21 pages, 11.4MB)

the issues around violence and crime are something that we're focusing very heavily on and campaigning on

working with many others to ensure that we address the concerns and make sure we have a safe environment for our colleagues to work in

data reviewed irrefutably shows that there's been an increase in the frequency but also the severity of violent incidents against shop workers

for example the British Retail Consortium shows 115 incidents of individuals being attacked whilst they're working in shops every single day

there are four main scenarios in which violence occurs in our shops

the first one is encountering shoplifters and this is the most common trigger for these types of incidents

the second most common scenario is enforcing the age restricted sales or other prohibited Goods

enforcing legislation accounts for one in five violent incidents in our shops

top workers are telling us that this is putting them under considerable pressure but also putting them in considerable danger

really concerning is that one of the four main scenarios is hate related incidents

many of the employees I spoke to told me that they would be verbally abused or even violently threatened purely because of their appearance or their perceived membership of a certain race or religion or even sexual orientation

the Home Office commercial victimization survey estimated there were 300,000 armed robberies in our shops last year

I've witnessed many horrific incidents, the worst was when a criminal had a sawed-off shotgun because we couldn't open the safe

the impacts tend far beyond physical injuries and shop workers are reporting that they have long lasting and serious mental health consequences

many shop workers are taking the difficult decision to actually leave a job that they once enjoyed because they simply no longer feel safe


we've invested over the last three years 70 million pounds to make our colleagues feel safer and recently at our AGM the members voted for us to continue that level of investment

we've spent a significant amount of money on headsets so they feel safer because they can talk to each other

we've also partnered with a company called seek on operating a monitoring station for us a Central Station in Croydon

we've linked state-of-the-art CCTV systems in a thousand of our stores to the central monitoring station where our colleagues can ask for help

today we've invested 4.3 million pounds through our local community fund into local causes that really help to address the causes of crime

such as giving young people things to do, opportunities to get on, to learn new skills and a couple of examples

there would be partnerships with the Demel or Taylor trust, the edge and the archway project

if we all work together, businesses, government, local authorities, police we can make a really big difference in terms of helping to tackle the root causes of crime