Are some forms of stealing more acceptable than others?
Thou shalt not steal. It’s one of the first life lessons we are taught as human beings. This simple rule of morality is innately drilled into us and thereby reflected in everything, from religion and school to the law. Despite these intrinsic social values however, it seems that even left-wing activists can find exceptions to the rule.
Supermarket theft is a subject which somehow manages to blur the lines of our accepted social boundaries, aligning itself as rather trivial in comparison to other forms of stealing. It is often the large, “faceless”, money-grabbing supermarket giants that are targeted over the small and local when people choose to bend the rules because the idea of ripping off the nice man who runs the independent fruit and veg shop seems entirely unthinkable. But are the two crimes really that different?
Speaking to friends, who are largely middle class and more left than right-wing, I was surprised to find just how normal this form of dishonesty can be among those who clearly have the means to pay. The act is regarded, by some, as a victimless crime and somewhat of a political statement. Think along the lines of Robin Hood, taking from the rich and giving to the poor – only without giving to the poor! Now of course, I’m not talking flat screen TVs and mobile phones, but petty theft. For example, scanning through an expensive bag of apples as a value bag, or not telling the shop assistant if they significantly undercharge you. Minor offences which mean big losses when committed en masse.
Highlighting just this, The Telegraph recently reported the enormous rise in theft, to the tune of £1.6 billion, as a result of self service checkouts: “Fruit and vegetables are the most likely items to be taken, as shoppers confess to stealing on average £15 worth each of goods every month from self scanners.”
These figures highlight a worrying new trend, made possible via automated technology and further alienating human contact. Implemented as a modern solution to saving staff, time and ultimately money, this device seems to allow otherwise honest citizens to suspend their ethical belief system.
This would seem to imply that both practically and ethically, it’s easier to steal from a machine than from a person. The dehumanisation here is projected onto the very idea of supermarkets too. We imagine corporations as money-making machines, conveniently forgetting the individual employees who make up the workforce. With the media feeding us damning reports outlining cuts in jobs, fair trade (or lack of it!) and even slavery in our food chain, we are encouraged to point the finger of blame at supermarkets. The danger is that this widespread notion of independent being good and supermarkets bad is being used as an excuse for entirely selfish criminal behaviour.
Okay, so as crime goes, this form of law-breaking isn’t exactly the worst of the worst. But while these acts of petty theft are unlikely to throw the planet into turmoil, it must be wrongly impacting upon people somewhere along the line. And let’s face it, if we’re all at it, things are going to get messy. Recent reports of supermarket giants including Tesco and Morrisons act as a reminder that even the biggest corporations are being hit hard. And it’s not only the people at the top who will suffer.
Ironically, while many argue that they would never steal from the vulnerable, stealing from supermarkets has the potential to do just that. It’s the supermarket employees earning minimum wage most at risk of being put on the dreaded zero-hour contracts, or worse still, being made redundant. And that’s before you consider the impact of increased consumer prices (supermarkets will want to make their loss back somehow) with the potential to make our grocery shopping pricier than ever. So once again it’s the taxpayer, you and I, who are ultimately punished.
It’s this moral high ground that individuals take in order to justify their antisocial behaviour that I have a problem with. Now, I would be lying if I said that I’ve never experienced the satisfaction of realising that I was undercharged for a purchase, especially when I was a student. But to consider the deliberate underpaying of companies as some sort of political statement is nothing more than a naive attempt to justify an entirely selfish act. There is no such thing as a victimless crime, and I’ll be darned if it isn’t someone at the bottom of the food chain who is hit hardest. So, instead of breaking the law, take your custom elsewhere.
Image from: http://realfood.tesco.com/our-food/the-organic-year.html
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