2020 was a year of significant progression of societal attitudes towards matters of race and racial equality, and this progression will continue apace in 2021.
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) campaign has given some much-needed impetus to a great number of brands and businesses that, whilst clearly not acting in any way that would be considered racist, were not already active in the drive to challenge and eliminate racism in society.
The BLM movement has really shone a light on the issues and encouraged the whole of society to take both responsibility for, and action against, racism.
This is just as key in the retail sector as any other. We have seen many brands move to publicly support BLM and take the opportunity to both progress their own internal conversations about race, and be part of the national dialogue that is taking place. The public facing nature of any retail brand will see it recognise both the societal and commercial benefit of being visible in this space, and associating with positive role models who are stepping up to challenge inequality.
One consequence that we are seeing from this societal shift is a greater willingness for employees to call out racism within their workplace. People feel much better equipped to speak out, whether they are the subject of an incident or witness to one.
Clearly, all employers will need to be ready to deal with such matters through their internal processes, and with retailers this will likely expand to having appropriate processes in place to deal with complaints from or about customer interactions with staff.
One particular practical issue we are seeing is the rise of complaints about historic matters where employees now have the confidence to call out unacceptable or inappropriate behaviours that may have occurred some time ago, including racism. We saw this also in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
Clearly, these claims can be difficult to investigate due to the lapse of time – and often the progression of staff from the business. However, it is important that retail employers don’t simply ignore or refuse to consider these complaints and that they seek advice as to how best to progress internal processes in these cases.
Our latest research among the UK’s top 100 retailers revealed the popular steps that retailers are taking to address equality, diversity and inclusivity (ED&I) in their business. These include reviewing and ensuring equal pay (38%); compulsory ED&I training for staff (31%); setting diversity targets (28%); launching a whistleblowing hotline (21%); and reviewing talent management processes (19%).
15% of retailers have launched a diversity committee and 13% have launched a mentoring programme.
This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at January 2021. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms and conditions.