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UNI Global Union affiliates from around the world united for a global action day on 17 November to demand that governments and retailers take action to end violence and harassment in commerce.

Since the pandemic, there has been an explosion of third-party violence by customers towards workers across the retail sector, from supermarkets to fashion stores.

More than 100 union representatives from 30 countries took part in a global webinar, organized by UNI’s commerce sector, to tackle the issue.

Stuart Appelbaum, UNI Commerce President and President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union in the United States, explained how the U.S. culture of ‘the customer is always right’ has led to a sense of entitlement from customers that must change. Combined with pandemic stress and the politicization of mask wearing, has led to a spike in violence in commerce – that has even escalated to workers being shot and killed by customers.

Kenta Ando, from Japanese union UA Zensen, reported how retail workers’ requests for people to wear masks have been repeatedly met with outright refusal from customers, as well as abusive language.

His union has successfully lobbied the Japanese government into taking significant measures to protect retail workers. New guidelines to deal with customer harassment, drawn up in consultation with the union, are set for release in February 2022.

Gerard Dwyer, National Secretary of Australian union SDA, said a survey of retail workers found that one in five had been deliberately spat or coughed on during the pandemic. The union, through its comprehensive ‘No One Deserves A Serve’ public awareness campaign has played a major role in tackling customer violence and harassment. The SDA’s ten-point safety plans have been implemented across the country and across industries with a clear message of zero-tolerance to abusive behaviour.

In Sweden, Thea Holmlund from Handels union, revealed that 28 per cent of women in retail have experienced sexual harassment by a third party the last 12 months​, compared to 4 per cent in the wider labour market. Handels is now including clauses in their collective agreements to help prevent this abuse. Indeed, “The best cure for violence and harassment in the workplace is union representation,” said Lisa Melin, from another Swedish affiliate, Unionen.

A survey by Hungarian retail union KASZ, revealed that an astounding 80 per cent of retail workers had experienced physical violence from customers. Alarmingly, in more than half of cases, their managers did nothing about it and worse still, 14 per cent said the customer was right.

Mathias Bolton, Head of UNI Commerce said:

“It’s clear that abuse and harassment in the retail sector, which has soared during the pandemic, is a universal problem. We will not accept violence as ‘part of the job’ and as unions representing millions of retail workers round the world, action to create safe workplaces in commerce is a clear priority for us.”

UNI Commerce will soon be publishing a global report on violence and harassment in the retail sector.  In addition, UNI is developing an information hub for all related information, reports, campaign material and best practices on the issue.

The global day of action will be repeated next year on 17 November 2022.

To see the UNI Commerce Declaration on Violence and Harassment in English click here

For the Declaration in French, German, Italian, Japanese, Swedish, Arabic, Hindu, Korean, Polish, Portuguese and Turkish please click here