Protestors: how it can affect your business

“I work in retail, protesters won’t affect us will they?”

Serious Organised Crime and Counter Terrorism lead, David MacCrimmon discusses the impact of protests on the business community and what employers can do to stay safe.

We’ve all seen the media reporting of protests groups, notably environmental protests in London and to a lesser extent in Edinburgh, targeting government buildings, large banks, transport infrastructure and the fossil fuel industry, bringing city centres to a standstill and putting a strain on police resources.

I was speaking to a contact who manages a retail centre recently who told me that their premises had attracted environmental protestors because on their concourse there was a stall offering a product which, when closely scrutinised, had an associated environmental impact.

A climate change protest group were aware of this and that knowledge and awareness of the environmental impact of a certain product exclusively for sale, or even stocking a single product that down the chain harms the environment, made the centre a legitimate target in their eyes.

Protest groups can often quickly gather enough support and arrive at your place of business and cause disruption for as long or as short as they deem necessary to promote their cause or raise awareness that a business is negatively linked, for example, to climate change.

Tactics used have ranged from stickers and ‘fly posting’ on doors and windows, people with placards and loudhailers, and people gluing themselves to windows and locking arms together with chains and lying in front of premises.

So, what can you do if this were to happen?

Simple monitoring of the situation is the first step, by either CCTV or security officers in uniform discretely from a distance if need be.

But bear in mind that you will have staff and in respect to retail, members of the public, your customers, who can also be affected, and in very different ways.

Some people may intervene, argue with protestors and enflame a situation, or even join in, some may simply walk on by and ignore it. This can be the same with staff, we all have our own views and opinions and express them in very different ways as individuals and not necessarily with company policy.

Some protest groups organise themselves over social media and advertise camps and ‘training events’, so it may be worth monitoring that, or investing in some tools to help do that. You could also monitor mainstream media for current activities and look out for things like banners, posters or stickers on or near your premises or place of business.

Protesters may also dress the same, by that I mean costumes and masks, so it’s good practice to look out for the less ordinary, the person or persons who appear to stand out, who are waiting or gathering, ready to unfurl flags and banners.

Let the police know, contact police on 101, or in an emergency by 999, but please bear in mind that some protest groups are very well versed in the law and how not to fall foul of the law, but also in acts of criminality that would cause them to be arrested for their cause.

Within the law

On that last point, you should be aware of the rights of persons to engage in lawful protest, and the policing tactics in response to lawful protest will be the same as an organised street parade or march, it will be monitored and policed to ensure the safety of all concerned and that the law is not broken, so don’t expect protesters to be dragged away into waiting police vans for simply displaying a placard or a banner.

Be aware of reputational damage

In 2019 a Foreign Office Minister grabbed a Greenpeace activist by the neck and removed her from a dinner event in London. It happened in the public eye and was broadcast on all major media outlets, it led to his suspension from post and an investigation of assault by the Metropolitan Police, and finally the footage on YouTube has to date almost 900k views.

If you ever find your business as the target of a situation such as the ones described and are in any doubt of what to do, call the police on 101.

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