Calls to boycott Marks & Spencer over its decision to stock the hijab in its school uniform section is reminiscent of a similar campaign against the retailer John Lewis in 2014.
The retail giants have, at different times, sold uniforms for hundreds of schools nationwide, non-denominational or faith-based. An incentive for schools to list their uniforms for sale through M&S is that the company gives schools a 5 per cent cashback on sales.
In response to criticism and calls for boycotts, both companies responded that several schools had requested the hijab, and, as part of their agreement, was complying with demand.
M&S confirmed that it provides bespoke uniforms to 250 schools in Britain, adding that a ‘number of schools’ had requested the hijab.
But what’s the actual figure? A search of the ‘Your School Uniform’ section of the M&S website found that only four of the schools, or 1.6 per cent, list the hijab in its uniform section.
All four of the schools are in London, and half of which state in their uniform policies that the hijab is not mandatory, the other two schools are less clear in their uniform policy wording. Nor are the schools faith-based.
Lady Margaret Primary School, for example, in its uniform policy, states: “Girls from the Muslim community who choose to wear a head covering garment may wear a short black hijab. If wearing the summer dress, girls may wear a short white hijab.”
Whereas, the Barclay Primary School uniform policy states: “Religious headwear will be considered in a case by case basis with representation from parents for unique and exceptional circumstances or which are required specifically/explicitly to be worn by children as an expected religious observance at their specific age range.”
The plain uniform shop on the M&S website also lists the hijab.
Despite the small number of schools listing the hijab in its uniform through M&S, criticism of the retailer has appeared in The Times, MailOnline, The Sun, The Metro, LBC, The Daily Record, The Daily Post, the Indy100, and The Telegraph.
On Twitter, Katie Hopkins, of the far-right Canadian media outlet Rebel Media, tweeted: “Dear @marksandspencer May I ask when your FGM starter kits will be available? Do you have plans to move ladies wear to the back of the store? Maybe via a separate, lesser entrance?”. This tweet gained over 700 retweets alone.
In response to criticism that the sizing of the hijabs stocked may fit children under the age of five, M&S told the Metro that it was designed to fit a child with a 55-56 cm head circumference, adding that this was “the head size of an average nine-year-old.”
Tell MAMA has often warned about sensationalised media coverage, and, in some cases reported to our service, individuals have been subjected to discriminatory behaviour from schools due to their visible Islamic identities.