Are You Facing the Possibility of Protest?
Protest now appears to be an everyday occurrence. Many individuals and organisations now escalate their complaint or grievance to the level of protest to draw attention to their cause or issue. Often these protests are directed at business.
Businesses can suffer the effects of protest, whether directly targeted as a result of their activities, or simply because they happen to be near an organisation that is targeted. Whilst a protest can be lawful, it can still impact a business’ bottom line.
The financial cost of protest is huge. The Extinction Rebellion protests in 2019 reportedly cost the Metropolitan Police around £37 million (Davies, G. 2019). The private sector is also affected, with the cost to business apparently amounting to tens of millions. Hong Kong saw a 6.6% drop in retail sales as a result of the protest action seen last year. (Wong & Edgecliffe-Johnson, 2019). Whilst the costs related to immediate business impact caused by protest are often easier to calculate and are significant, it is the effect on business reputation that is harder to quantify and is often more damaging.
Employees can be adversely affected by protest, especially where the protest has been perceived as aggressive or become unlawful.
Business reputation can be affected by poor press/social media or from an organisation’s inappropriate response to protest. There are many examples where protest has engendered sympathy through appearance of overzealous response.
Advice for Businesses
A proactive approach to ensure business resilience and reduction of potential costs should be a priority for a business at risk of protest action.
Invaluable actions which can ensure business resilience include:
- engage the services of specialist advice
- provide training/engage a specialist training provider to up-skill your current workforce to deal with protest, including a knowledge of the law, rights of both employees and protesters, background of protest and appropriate actions to be taken
- ensure protest is considered as part of business continuity planning and risk management strategy
- where there is a direct threat, have an ‘on the ground’ adviser or team to assist
- embed trained professionals into the front-line team
- detailed risk assessment
Often the successful outcome of taking the above advice is what is NOT seen and NOT heard:
- no adverse press or social media
- no protest at a company’s HQ or premises
- no adverse effect on business continuity: business as usual
- no impact to staff or workers
When success is what is NOT seen; questions may be raised about whether specialist advice and training was needed in the first place.
Prevention is key. Protest groups do a lot of research about the target of their protest. They are well-informed and intelligent. They are passionate about their belief so they too will be risk assessing the planned action. Often proactive action by an organisation following specialist advice and training will put off a protest group, especially where they believe there will no useful media attention to get their cause heard or where the effect on the protest group will be harmful to their own cause.
Advisers and training are too expensive
The cost of initial proactive advice and training is a lot more cost effective than a potential unlawful protest or potential eviction of protesters, both in reputational or economic terms. Protester evictions from private land or properties can cost over £20,000 per day in fees. Prevention early on is key.
Long term targeting: where companies have not invested in advice and training, they can be seen as a weak target and become the subject of long and protracted protests which affect business resilience, cause reputational damage and ultimately increase costs.
Protests, especially when they become unlawful, can have an effect on the well-being of your workers, especially those who work at Reception or at a front door. Prevention of protest can potentially reduce distress to employees and staff absence.
Our security team will sort it out
Do not assume your security team/provider has had the correct training to deal with protest. It is not part of the initial SIA training required to hold a licence and there is no requirement, unless specified by a client, for a security provider to provide this training. An organisation should be asking for guards trained in how to deal with protest or provide this training through an approved supplier.
 Davies, G. (2019) Extinction Rebellion protests cost police £37million and led to other investigations being shut. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/10/22/extinction-rebellion-cost-37m-police-led-investigations-closed/
 Wong. S & edgecliffe-Johnson (2019) Businesses in Hong Kong count cost of protests https://www.ft.com/content/1d082f54-b8f4-11e9-8a88-aa6628ac896c