Thought leadership

Sainsbury’s has been accused of exploiting a loophole to keep Argos outlets open during the UK lockdown.

Under government restrictions, all non-essential shops have been closed for the past week. As supermarkets are an exception, Argos concessions within Sainsbury’s shops remain open. But workers fear health risks and customers said they should be shut.

Sainsbury’s said people can only buy items at the in-store Argos outlets if they have already paid for them online.

“Like many other online retailers, we are selling essential products for the millions of people now living and working entirely from home,” a Sainsbury’s spokesperson told the BBC.

“This includes products for the home office, for educating and entertaining children and for adults to stay fit and entertained at home.

“We are then strongly advising customers to have these delivered to their homes. We also have an option to collect from Sainsbury’s supermarkets while doing an essential food shop.”

UK book store Waterstones has closed its 280 stores, but has kept its warehouse open to service online deliveries.

Chief executive James Daunt said books were an important resource for people who were self isolating.

“I realise many other retailers say they are essential. I think we can so with more credibility than most,” he told Radio 4’s Today Programme.

Businesses are still able to take online orders and deliver items to people’s homes. One unnamed worker, quoted in evidence published by the House of Commons business select committee, said: “Argos is currently using the loophole of having stores in a supermarket [Sainsbury’s] to continue to trade as normal, despite virtually everything being sold being non-essential in the current crisis.

“Paddling pool, play sand, wardrobes, TVs, video games and console, all non-essential. As the standalone stores are closed, this is driving huge numbers of people to gather in their stores, to the point where people are queuing across the whole Sainsbury’s.

“They are actively encouraging, on their website, people to go and buy these non-essential items in these stores.

“They are also forcing all Argos workers from their closed standalone stores, to go and work in the stores that are still trading, or a local Sainsbury’s, rather than allowing them to stay at home (where the government says they should be).

“If they refuse, they are being sent home without pay and refused furlough. These actions are surely going to undermine the government’s plans to contain this pandemic, leading to the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands of vulnerable people.”


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