The K-Market bullying-free zone program receives annual public health prize

Last autumn, all K-Market stores were declared bullying-free zones. Our program has now been recognized by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, which awarded it with the 2022 Public Health Prize for nationally significant contributions towards public health.  

The Bullying-free Zone program received the annual Public Health Prize as part of Public Health Day, which has a particular focus this year on reducing health-based inequality. The final award decision was made by Markku Tervahauta, President and CEO of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).

According to the institute, K-Market's approach reminds us that we all have a responsibility in ending bullying and that it should not be left to schools or homes alone. K-Markets have brought the prevention of bullying into the limelight and provided others with a model for addressing it when it occurs. The Bullying-free Zone was given the Public Health Award because the program proves that the health and well-being of children and adolescents can be promoted in all sectors of society.

"Every adult has a responsibility to address bullying, and THL's recognition further demonstrates its significance from a public health perspective. K-Markets have an important role in their respective communities, and this is reflected in their daily activities. We want to set an example in the prevention of bullying and encourage everyone to get involved," says Jesper Åberg, Managing Director, K-Market.

The Public Health Prize was awarded this year for the eighth time, with the 2021 prize going to the Sekaisin Collective's Sekasin chat service for youth.

One store's initiative spreads nationwide

In essence, the Bullying-free Zone means that a store acts as a safe place where bullied children or adolescents can always find a helpful adult. The concept was born when K-Market retailer Ville Kestilä became aware of schoolyard bullying in the vicinity of his own store. He immediately took to action and declared his shop a bullying-free zone in autumn 2020. The K-Market chain then built the Bullying-free Zone into an entire operating model, which then spread to all K-Market stores (nearly 800) around Finland over the course of a single year and is now a permanent program.

K-Market partners in the Bullying-free Zone program with the Mannerheim League for Child Welfare (MLL), which provides store merchants and staff with training and advice on how to prevent bullying. For example, MLL's Caring Adult checklist is available at K-Markets to provide guidance on how to approach a bullying situation.

"A bullying event spotted in a store may be an isolated incident but it can also be part of longer-term bullying. The young often need a channel where they can get help after acute events, and MLL's Child and Youth Helpline provides confidential phone and chat support where children can talk with trained, volunteer adults or professionals," explains Tatjana Pajamäki, Head of Helplines and Digital Services at MLL.

The Bullying-free Zone concept has been prominent in shops and the media and has succeeded in having an impact. According to a survey commissioned by the K Group, 25 percent of people who noticed the campaign said it convinced them to actively address bullying. 

"Although no single shop can rid the world of bullying on its own, we want to cast light on this important issue together with MLL. The prevention of bullying can have numerous positive effects on people's well-being, which is why we want to build bullying-free communities. Customer feedback and now this public health prize tell us that we are on the right track," says Riikka Joukio, Kesko's Vice President, Corporate Responsibility and Public Affairs.

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