Employers enlisted by police to detect extremism in workers

Private sector described as a ‘blind spot’ as companies urged for the first time to root out radicalisation at work

Police forces are enlisting private sector companies for the first time to spot potential radicalisation and extremism in the workforce. 

According to a report in the Financial Times (FT), UK counter terrorism police are working with companies in the retail, travel and entertainment sectors – including River Island, McDonalds and Tesco – in a bid to tackle what Nik Adams, the officer in charge of co-ordinating Prevent – the government’s anti-radicalisation programme – across the UK, has called a “blind spot”.

Employers in these sectors will be provided with training to help them spot the signs of radicalisation.

Prevent is part of the UK’s Counter Terrorism Strategy, and covers public sector organisations such as schools, colleges and the NHS. The Home Office has said there are no plans to extend the Prevent statutory duty, which puts legal obligations on certain authorities, beyond the public sector bodies already covered.

Currently, the initiative puts certain public sector authorities under a legal obligation to “have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”.

It requires that staff know what measures are available to prevent people from becoming involved in terrorism, how to challenge the extremist ideology that can be associated with it and how to obtain support for people who may be exploited by radicalising influences.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Prevent training is currently aimed at staff in frontline positions who deliver public services and who may be in a position to notice signs of radicalisation. This training is aimed at professionals such as teachers and healthcare workers so that they can ensure vulnerable individuals are offered appropriate support.

“We all have a role to play in identifying potential terrorist activity, and we welcome any efforts to increase awareness of the signs of radicalisation.” 

McDonalds confirmed its involvement, however could not comment further “due to the nature of this work.”

Tesco and River Island have not yet responded to a request for comment.

Adams told the FT: “In the same way that the internet chat forums can be an echo chamber for particular views, companies have recognised that they could be vulnerable to those sorts of issues internally, if staff work in small teams, in a closed environment with no public visibility or access where people have to manage their own behaviour. They create echo chambers.”

He added the move was crucial given the large number of people who are in employment and because of the way grievances, bullying and disciplinary action happen in organisations, which “might indicate somebody holds radicalised or extremist views”.

Last year, businesses accounted for only 1 per cent of the 7,318 referrals made to Prevent, according to Home Office statistics. 

Prevent has been a contentious programme since its inception. In 2016, the Open Society Justice Initiative recommended a major government rethink following a nine-month review of the programme found it was “deeply flawed”.

The report’s author, Amrit Singh, told the Guardian Prevent was a “serious problem, not only because it creates a systemic risk of human rights violations, but also because it is counterproductive.”

Critics more broadly have raised concerns it leads to racial profiling and discrimination.