The pharmacists Boots is promoting the Government’s controversial Prevent counter-terrorism programme despite the fact that, as a private company, it is not obliged to do so.
According to advocacy group CAGE, a “Safeguarding and Prevent” guidance poster displayed on the walls of its branches as well as a PDF form on its website make implementing Prevent a collective responsibility.
Boots states: “Prevent is a government strategy aimed at protecting people from radicalisation, so they’re not drawn towards extremism. Extremism is when someone actively opposes British values like democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and tolerance of different beliefs.”
Boots goes onto ask its staff to look out of for changes of behavior which could include:
- being withdrawn
- aggressive behaviour
- being absent from work more
- a sudden and unexpected change in eating habits
- different or new circle of friends
Prevent is designed to support people at risk of joining extremist groups and carrying out terrorist activities. It requires public sector workers to look out for the “signs of extremism” and report individuals if necessary.
Muslim and human rights organisations, as well as hundreds of academics, have criticised Prevent as being little more than a spying and monitoring exercise on the Muslim community.
CAGE says the guidance to Boots staff will only serve to generate mistrust, suspicion and facilitate for a toxic programme and its harmful effects to be extended to the private sector.
Moazzam Begg, Outreach Director for CAGE, said: “I was made aware of this particular application of Prevent guidance by a former university lecturer who’d been out shopping at his local branch of Boots, who said: ‘I was gobsmacked. It was in public view. I don’t work in there, I was just going in to get my prescription and just saw it in front of me; above a notice for prescription charges. Anyone could have seen this. I’m not sure whether they are informing on their staff or whether it is customers as well.’
“The disturbing part about this is that Prevent has not just encroached upon the relationship of trust between teacher and pupil, doctor and patient and colleagues at work but, some customers clearly believe that it may now potentially seek to extend its reach to cashiers and paying customers. The cumulative effect of this can only sow the seeds of mistrust and discord.
“If a highly respectable high street retailer like Boots has entered the business of policing its staff, then the public needs to know. They also need to know which other companies are following suit.”