Retailers’ involvement in work experience schemes has the overwhelming backing of the public, despite prompting a storm of protest in recent weeks.

A specially commissioned ICM poll for Retail Week found that 73% of people believe retailers should participate in government-backed work experience programmes. And more than half think that retail offers career opportunities equal to any other business sector.

The findings will be welcomed by big retailers that have been targeted by campaigners who accused them of ‘slave labour’. Last week representatives of retailers including Argos, Asda and Tesco met employment minister Chris Grayling in an attempt to defuse the row, but last weekend there were still protests at numerous shops over the scheme.

On Monday Tesco unveiled plans to create 20,000 new jobs over the next two years to improve service and customer experience.

UK boss Richard Brasher said: “With youth unemployment at record levels we’re determined to target many of our new jobs at young people currently out of work, so that in this difficult jobs market those who need help the most will get it.”