Why You Should Boycott Tesco

I created this blog in order to write long and tedious articles about various aspects of film, music and television. My intentions were to create a sort of vein of positivity in the midst of a field in which people seem to score brownie points for cynicism. To that end I've tried my hardest to only write about things I enjoy.

However, evil does exist, and sometimes it just won't do to live and let live. You must allow for me to be serious for a few moments. And though I've written about evil before, when doing so I was still ostensibly writing about music. This time, though, I'm going to have to veer wildly off-topic, as it cannot go unsaid: Tesco are evil.

Or, if they're not evil, then they are, without a doubt, cold and unfeeling hypocrites to be boycotted immediately.

I used to write for Yelp. My position involved writing reviews of businesses and places of interest in the Liverpool and Manchester areas. I readily admit to dishing out scathing one-star reviews of every branch of Tesco I ever encountered. This wasn't pettiness on my part. The whole idea of Yelp is to inform you of what's unique and worth seeing in a city. Tesco, though, will always represent bland corporate homogeneity and, a lot of the time, they seem to exist at the expense of local and independent ventures. They got one-star on principal. They stood against everything Yelp existed to champion.

But then you learn of such initiatives as their Charity of the Year and you start to feel a little guilty. Each year, Tesco raises money and awareness for a specific charity through various fundraising ventures. To be reminded of this having criticised them so heavily – well, it's quite hard not to feel like some kind of dying-internally snivelling armchair critic.

But this year, Tesco's Charity of the Year is The Alzheimer's Society. They're aiming to raise £5 million “build a better future for people with dementia.” According to the website of their partnership, their aims are as follows:

1. For every day of our partnership, we want to help 300 people live better with dementia.

2. We aim to give 100,000 people easy-to-access support and information through the Dementia Community Roadshow.

3. We aim to help 10,000 isolated families get specialist care and advice through our new Dementia Support services.

4. We will also fund two vital dementia research scientists who will conduct groundbreaking research.

Fair enough.

It's just that -

My nan has Alzheimers, but she doesn't shop at Tesco any more.

Want to know why?

Because they banned her.

Why did they ban her?

Essentially, for displaying symptoms of Alzheimers.

If you have ever known anybody with this condition, then you'll know that they're frequently confused and often find themselves with no idea of where they are or what they're doing. So they go through the motions and routine and clutch onto that which is familiar.

So you're walking through a supermarket and you're carrying a bag. Because your brain itself is deteriorating, the action of placing things in your bag is literally absent-minded.

This happened in Sainsbury's. She was caught leaving the store with various unpaid-for items in her bag. When confronted, her confused reaction was such that – coupled with the fact that the staff knew her – it was enough to satisfy anybody that she was not shoplifting. She was just very, very confused on account of her condition.

But Sainsbury's have a business to run. Of course, they can't have people walking round taking stock from their shelves. Dementia or no dementia – if they leave the store without paying, then the store loses money. It's completely understandable that Sainsbury's should take exception to this. But Sainsbury's also happen to be human. They did the right thing: they contacted her family, told us what happened and asked firmly but fairly that should she ever come to their store again, that she does so under our supervision.

See that, Tesco? That's how you should have reacted.

For – yes – the same thing happened in Liverpool's Old Swan branch of Tesco. A small, confused elderly lady – a loyal customer for long enough to have accrued no small amount of points on her Loyalty Card – is caught literally absent-mindedly places several items in her bag.

I cannot stress enough that she simply had no idea what she was doing and would be absolutely mortified were she to suddenly realise what she were doing. Unconscious shoplifing is widely understood to be an unfortunate side-effect of Alzheimers.

But unlike Sainsbury's, when Tesco see this sad and sorry scene, they don't see a sufferer of the very condition they're this year apparently trying to help. No. Instead they apparently saw a cold, hardened criminal and treated her as such. She's marched to the back office where she is reprimanded.

We don't know exactly what happened because she was alone – and that's very important. She was alone. To be in the supermarket alone – even though it was a place familiar to her through years of visit – must have  been confusing and mildly terrifying for her. But to be marched by force to the back office? Even if it was for kind words and a cup of tea, the confusion alone must have been horrifying for her.

But there were no kind words and there was no cup of tea. Instead, they wiped-clean her hard-accrued loyalty points, banned her from the store and – apparently setting out to prove that they really are as bad as everyone secretly suspect – forced her to leave through the back exit. She therefore had humiliation to add to her terror and confusion.

She was so ashamed that she didn't tell us. We only found out when we found a letter from the store in her bag, and she was very reluctant to elaborate. But eventually she did. And the experience was so traumatic that she now very rarely seems to leave the house.

It's been pointed out to me that the manager and security of that particular Tesco may only have been acting in line with their store policy. This would be an acceptable explanation were it not for three things:

1.We have the precedent of Sainsbury's to show us that even big businesses do not necessarily have to act so heartlessly.

2.Their Charity of this Year is The Alzheimer's Society. Would a little bit of sensitivity therefore be too much to ask?

3.Even if they were so determined to make no exceptions for shoplifters – be they intentional or not – was it really so necessary to take away her loyalty points and force her to leave  - most probably sobbing and trembling - through the back exit?

We contacted Tesco to give them a chance to explain themselves. Perhaps these were merely the actions of a loose-cannon manager who plays by his own rules? Surely those who were that very year working to raise funds and awareness for sufferers of dementia would be horrified to learn that a sufferer had been so badly and unfairly mistreated by their own hands?

But they were remorseless. I've not yet seen the letter they sent, but I've been told of its contents. They essentially insisted that, having investigated the matter, they have no problems at all with the manner in which the Old Swan branch acted.

Which suggests that they really do have such stringent policies that they can make no exception for anyone. However,I am told that nowhere in the letter was a simple two syllable word used which would have, at the very least, suggested regret on their part. Not even, I'm reliably informed, a token “we apologise for any misunderstanding”.

What were we expecting? For them to lift the ban? For them to fire or reprimand the jobsworth manager of the Old Swan branch? For them to reinstate her loyalty points, or perhaps send some vouchers as a token of goodwill?

I really think we would have settled for an apology, even if it was followed by a firm “we have a zero-tolerance policy” caveat. I actually naively thought that an apology would be a given. This might be Tesco, but the bad PR that would stem from their behaving so insensitively towards one so vulnerable – a representative, indeed, of their charity of the year – would at the very least be worth an apology. But that was never going to happen. This is Tesco, after all.

So why, then, would an explicit champion of The Alzheimer's Charity be so remorseless in the face of hypocrisy on their part?

You'd think that they'd only started the whole Charity of the Year thing as an empty token gesture or something, wouldn't you? A sort of “look how benevolent we are” which is supposed to make up for every other unethical practice on their part.

To pledge to raise £5 million for any charity is undeniably admirable. But when Tesco itself embodies the very problem they're trying to fix (misunderstanding and mistreatment of dementia sufferers), you really do have to question their motives.

Imagine if they'd secretly funded arms-manufacturers whilst The British Red Cross were their chosen charity. I'm now convinced that the whole Charity of the Year conceit is designed to be one giant arrow pointing the other way.

That alone would be enough for me to vow to boycott. But no.

This time it's personal.

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