In a bold and surprising move, John Lewis has announced that it will not accept government money designated to bring furloughed staff members back to work. This decision follows closely on the heels of a similar announcement made by Primark. The UK government has proposed a £1,000 bonus per worker for companies that rehire and retain staff until January. While John Lewis could potentially receive around £14 million and Primark £30 million from this grant, both retailers have chosen to forgo the financial aid.

Although these amounts may appear substantial, they pale in comparison to the overall size of the companies. Instead, the decision to decline the money holds more value in terms of public relations. Numerous retailers have faced negative publicity during the lockdown, either due to accusations of unsafe working conditions or for accepting government funds while being perceived as financially stable. As a result of negative headlines and public backlash, retailers like Frasers Group, Victoria Beckham, Boohoo, Next, Net-A-Porter, and Asos were compelled to reverse their original decisions.

For Primark, the Treasury has described the retailer’s refusal of the grant as a commendable act benefiting the entire country. This endorsement holds particular significance, as Primark has faced criticism in the past. The timing of this support from the Treasury is notable, as Boohoo currently faces intense scrutiny for its alleged use of sweatshop factories in Leicester.

John Lewis, with its employee ownership structure and commitment to ethical practices, also considers this decision to be of great importance. The company is currently navigating the permanent closure of eight of its stores and hopes to be perceived as making responsible and ethical choices during this difficult time of transition.

Ultimately, the choice made by both John Lewis and Primark to decline government funds demonstrates their dedication to ethical behavior and responsible business practices. Although these grants could have provided much-needed financial relief, these retailers have prioritized the preservation of their reputations and the potential impact of their decisions on their various stakeholders.

Useful links:
BBC – John Lewis refuses £1,000 bonus for bringing back furloughed staff
The Guardian – Primark will not accept £30m of government money