During the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, retail workers remained on the front lines to enforce health and safety measures, which put them at the risk of potential hostility or even discrimination. Now, even as the number of confirmed cases are dramatically declining, a collective of nonprofits and nationwide chains has come together to enact initiatives aimed at helping protect their own employees at the store level.
Nonprofit Open to All, along with movement Hollaback and the Retail Industry Leaders Association, announced the launch of Inclusive Retail — a campaign that seeks to ensure floor staff and sales associates are not on the receiving end of unjust treatment from customers. Ascena Retail Group, American Eagle Outfitters, Capri Holdings, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Gap, H&M and Ralph Lauren were among the corporate partners that have signed on as participants.
“The pandemic has highlighted the invaluable role of frontline workers, who over the past year have kept the economy open at great personal risk,” Open to All director Calla Devlin Rongerude said in a statement.
Hollaback co-founder and executive director Emily May added, “Retailers are seeing an alarming rise in discrimination where floor staff are being targeted for who they are when enforcing safety measures. Given the rise in hate violence, which is at an all-time high, frontline workers are more vulnerable than ever.”
As part of the program, the groups have introduced two resources: the Customer Action Center, which features training for bystander intervention and allyship in the event a customer spots an employee who appears to be at risk, as well as the Open to All Inclusive Retail Business Toolkit. The latter toolkit was developed with the findings of campaign participant Sephora’s landmark study on Racial Bias in Retail, which found that one in five retail employees have personally experienced unfair treatment at their workplace.
“Retailers are committed to creating an in-store experience that is welcoming and most importantly safe for all visitors,” RILA VP of corporate social responsibility Erin Hiatt added. “Maintaining an environment where customers and employees feel safe certainly includes adhering to health guidance like PPE or distancing, but it also means cultivating spaces free from discrimination of any kind.”
As many of the country’s businesses reopened their doors to the public, retail workers — who were already contending with the risk of contracting COVID-19 due to their work on the front lines — often found themselves tasked with becoming the enforcers of health and safety measures at stores. In May, at a Target location in Van Nuys, Calif., an employee was assaulted and suffered a broke arm after confronting two customers who refused to wear masks. Two months later, in July, a shopper who declined to wear a face mask was captured in a video throwing shoe boxes at an associate in a Skechers outpost in Oklahoma City, Okla.
Last August, four suspects were ordered to stand trial in the fatal shooting of a security guard at a Family Dollar store in Flint, Mich., three months prior.