Archive for December 2013

Merry Christmas


This is not just any kerfuffle, it’s an M&S one

The Grand Dame of the British high street has had its fair share of problems over recent years, mostly revolving around lacklustre sales of its womenswear, but on Sunday it found itself at the eye of a storm about what goods its cashiers will or won’t handle.

As first reported by the Torygraph on Saturday evening:

Muslim staff working for Marks & Spencer have been given permission to refuse to serve customers buying alcohol or pork products.

I will not profess to be an expert but my understanding was that they are not supposed to consume said items and that there was nothing about handling packaging which may container the verboten produce.

If this were an official policy for checkout staff then I see a passing bandwagon for other groups to jump on, viz:

  • Jews: pork products & shellfish
  • Vegetarians: meat products
  • Teetotalers and recovering alcoholics: booze
  • Non- and anti-smokers: tobacco products
  • Misandrists: men
  • Misogynists: women
  • Racists: people of other skin tones

And so on for as many silly situations that you can think of*.

Obviously such a range of policies would need to be indicated to the customer so instead of the ’10 items of fewer’ sign, there will have to be an electronic display above each aisle with symbols indicating what the cashier won’t deign to touch.

Imagine the chaos – especially when someone misreads or ignores the sign.

Yes, OK, I’ve gone a bit reductio ad absurdum and there is, of course, a simpler solution: either tell the member of staff not to be so daft (which would no doubt land you in front of an employment tribunal on charges of ‘discrimination’) or put them to work in a different department (easier for a large corporate entity than a cornershop).**

By Sunday evening, M&S had backtracked saying:

“…it works closely with employees with specific beliefs that restrict what food or drink they can handle, but on this occasion it had to ‘regret’ that it had not followed its own guidelines.

“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.

“We regret that in the case highlighted today we were not following our own internal policy.”

No doubt said employee’s manager will be getting an earful – if they haven’t already.

*Matt Syson on the Boycott Marks and Spencer pushes beyond absurdity into stupidity though by asking if workers who wish to refuse the sale of ladies garments to male homosexuals or men’s trousers to lesbians will be tolerated. Quite how you can work out whether the customer is gay or lesbian whilst you are selling them goods is a mystery to me but if Matt can then Kuwait would like to hear from him.

**I’m ignoring the third option of ‘not working for a company which sells products you have a problem with’ since that requires people to take some responsibility for themselves – and I’m almost certain that such a thing is illegal these days.

The mask of civility and reason

For one of the few MPs with supposed libertarian leanings, the following tweet, even given the character limitations of twitter, hardly ranks amongst as Douglas Carswell’s finest utterings:

It doesn’t take much imagination to realise that this went down like a cup of cold sick with those who are in favour of free speech no matter how distasteful it can get and he came in for a bit of stick from them.

Carswell went on to ‘clarify’ his opening remarks in replies to some of the responses he received, saying that he’d like to be able to ‘exclude anonymous posters from one’s time line’ – an idea that perhaps (as a user-enabled setting) has legs assuming that anyone can come up with an acceptable definition of ‘anonymous’. Given that Guido and Old Holborn still use those identities even though pretty much everyone knows who Guido is these days and Old Holborn’s name was made public earlier this year, which side of the line do you place them? What about those like me who use a pseudonym as a handle but have their forename as their display name? Personally I’d place the odds of coming up with something that might suit Doug, let alone anyone else, at about the same as producing a useable internet porn filter.

The ‘explanation’ however leaves something to be desired as an optional block is a world away from wanting to sync twitter handles with the electoral roll in a cack-handed attempt to force civility on tweeters. Whilst I tend to be civil online (although my language is known to get somewhat fruity in meatspace), others are just as forthright in person as they are online so, anonymous or not, civility is not a certainty just because you know the real name of the person who has just suggested you perform some anatomically impossible act or has called you names that are slang for parts of the body.

Since Carswell is someone who has previous lauded the idea of the internet as a way of doing without big government, it is rather depressing to see him fall into the exact same trap. Is this simply the result of drinking the water in the Palace of Westminster or has his mask finally slipped?