A petition has been released to boycott Taylors, a chain of sandwich and deli shops across Oxford. The petition was created by Oxford student Atticus Stonestrom, a co-chair of the Oxford Coalition Against Homelessness (OCAH), and has been supported by Turl Street Homeless Action (TSHA).

The petition is a response to an incident which occurred in one of the cafes last summer when staff refused to allow two rough sleepers to drink their beverages on the premises, despite the fact that they had purchased the beverages in the store. According to the TSHA and the two individuals in question, Taylors demanded that the rough sleepers leave after taking their orders because of an offensive ‘odour’, supposedly deterring other customers from eating their food.

According to OCAH, the company issued a private apology for “miscommunication”, but OCAH reports that they “nonetheless failed to acknowledge the discriminatory nature of this conduct, in particular refusing to give assurance that this kind of behavior would not occur again.”

A spokesperson for Taylors told Cherwell that: “the allegation about Taylors discriminating against homeless people is inaccurate and untrue. We are aware of an incident in July where two individuals were asked to leave our premises due to a number of customer complaints over a period of approximately one week about a strong, unpleasant odour originating from them. The conversation between us and Adrian and Theodora was, unfortunately, handled poorly by the then Shop Manager and they were not given a clear reason as to why they were asked to leave. They assumed that this was down to their appearance and the fact that they were homeless which is regrettable as this was absolutely not the case.”

They went on to say: “We do not discriminate against anybody visiting our shops. However, we do have a duty of care to our customers and we cannot allow individuals to remain on our premises when other customers are walking out and raising complaints about hygiene standards in an establishment which provides food throughout the day. None of this has anything to do with the fact that the people asked to leave our premises were homeless.

“We are acutely aware of the serious homelessness problems within Oxford but this incident is being taken out of context and exaggerated. We have apologised for our initial poor handling of the communication and this apology was accepted. Oxford’s homelessness situation is a large and complicated issue to resolve and far beyond our circle of impact. We have however been discussing this internally and are working out ways where we can, in our own little way, play our part and do what we can to help.”

The petition advocates boycotting all Taylors establishments until they issue a public apology for the incident and assent to a list of demands put forward by OCAH. These include agreeing not to eject customers who have not displayed harmful behaviour, even on the basis of other customers’ complaints; not to deny service or entry to such customers; not to enforce time limits if there are enough tables free for new customers; and not to harass rough sleepers or treat them differently from any other customers.

Stonestrom posted the petition with the caption: “Those of you who know them have probably heard about the absolutely appalling treatment Theodora and Adrian have received in the past year; unfortunately this kind of persecution is common.

“Here’s an attempt to push back; please do sign and help publicise as much as you can.”

In a comment Stonestrom told Cherwell: “Unfortunately persecution against rough sleepers is commonplace; the demands we’re raising here are a bare minimum for combatting this kind of conduct.”

The petition can be found online at: https://www.change.org/p/oxford-businesses-boycott-against-discrimination-of-rough-sleepers-by-oxford-businesses?fbclid=IwAR1N4Ibp5cQTM27e8RMhpm6sg22zrNebtmt4xiUHZ5yH0_O2ba1QHXsrSF8