Firm leaves state scheme after threat of protests


A leading health food retailer that has been threatened with protests over its involvement with the Government's controversial work experience programme has pulled out of the scheme.

Holland & Barrett said it was worried about the safety of its staff and customers. The company, which has been supporting the Workfare programme for more than a year, said it was now launching its own apprentice scheme. A group called Boycott Workfare is planning a series of protests across the country over the next week, including plans to target Holland & Barrett stores. The group says its protests will be peaceful, just as previous protests have been.

A company statement said: "We take our responsibilities as a retailer and employer very seriously, and any possible compromise to the safety of our staff and customers from opponents of our work experience scheme is treated with great importance.

"This factor, together with the planned introduction of a new full-time, salaried apprentice scheme, means that the 60 people currently undertaking the work experience scheme will be the last to complete the eight-week placement. After this time, Holland & Barrett will not participate further in the scheme."

Employment Minister Chris Grayling said: "It is a disgrace that anyone should seek to target a company that is trying to help young unemployed people in this way."

Jim McLaughlin, a member of Boycott Workfare said: "It is disingenuous to suggest that peaceful protests pose a risk to anyone. It is a convenient way of distracting from the company’s ethical responsibility for using unpaid work on a massive scale - and from the fact that Workfare does not help people get into work. The protests are peaceful and legitimate, and have been supported by a massive public response on social media. The government and the companies profiting from the scheme need to face up to the uncomfortable truth: Workfare is failing."

More than 100 large companies and thousands of smaller businesses have been involved in the scheme since it was launched over a year ago. It ran into controversy earlier this year when protesters complained about the sanction of benefits being cut if someone pulled out of the programme.