22 December 2013
Last updated at 17:40 ET
MS has a growing food business along side its clothing stores
Marks Spencer has apologised after a Muslim member of staff refused to serve a customer trying to buy alcohol.
The retailer said it usually tried to assign “suitable roles” to staff who could not handle certain items because of their religious beliefs.
It said this policy had not been followed in a case highlighted by the Telegraph over the weekend.
Consuming alcohol is forbidden in Islam, and some Muslims refuse to handle it at all.
An unnamed customer told the newspaper they had tried to buy a bottle of champagne in an MS store, but the member of staff “was very apologetic but said she could not serve me” and asked the customer to use another till.
A spokesperson for MS said: “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.
‘Beyond common sense’
“As a secular business we have an inclusive policy that welcomes all religious beliefs, whether across our customer or employee base… We apologise that this policy was not followed in the case reported.”
Other retailers said they had similar policies, applied on a case-by-case basis, that allow Muslims to avoid handling alcohol or pork, and allow similar exceptions for other religions.
But speaking to Radio 5 live’s On The Money programme on Sunday, Andy Street, managing director of John Lewis, said the company did not have a similar policy, and questioned whether members of staff should have the right to refuse to serve customers.
“This is taking it one stage beyond common sense,” he told the programme.
“We certainly have never had any issue with our teams… we’ve not even had to have a policy on this. I would hope [members of staff] would understand that in their job this was probably going to be required.”