UK retailer sorry for Muslim staff ‘policy’ on pork, alcohol

Policy highlights debate on whether to accommodate workers’ religious and cultural practices

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British supermarket chain Marks & Spencer issued an apology on Sunday night after a Muslim member of staff refused to serve a customer trying to buy alcohol.

M&S appeared to backtrack after reports earlier in the day suggested that Muslim staff who do not wish to handle alcohol or pork for religious reasons have been told they can request that customers choose another checkout counter to pay at.

But a spokesperson for the supermarket apologized for the misinterpretation of their policy as a “secular business,” in comments carried by British newspaper The Independent.

“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.

“As a secular business we have an inclusive policy that welcomes all religious beliefs, whether across our customer or employee base... We apologize that this policy was not followed in the case reported.”

Earlier, an unnamed customer told the Telegraph they were “taken aback” when “I had one bottle of champagne, and the lady, who was wearing a headscarf, was very apologetic but said she could not serve me.”

An M&S spokesperson had told the Telegraph: “We recognize that some of our employees practice religions that restrict the food or drink they can handle, or that mean they cannot work at certain times.

“M&S promotes an environment free from discrimination and so, where specific requests are made, we will always make reasonable adjustments to accommodate them, whilst ensuring high levels of customer service.”

Many supermarkets in the UK are divided on whether to allow staff certain exemptions for religious reasons.

One chain, Asda, said it would not deploy Muslim workers on checkout counters who objected to handling the goods.

Sainsbury’s, another large supermarket chain, advises that all staff, no matter what their religion, should be able to handle meat and alcohol.

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