Co-op News

Co-op Group releases new report on its sustainability and ethical policies

The Co-op Group has released its annual review of ethics and sustainability for 2017, reporting its performance on fair tax, the environment, responsible sourcing and other issues.

It says it issued the review alongside its annual report “so our members can see the full picture of our financial and ethical performance”.

#TheCoopWay Report 2017 says the Group:

  • invested £29.7m in communities locally in the UK and around the world
  • reduced direct greenhouse gas emissions by 54% since 2006 – three years ahead of its target
  • was recognised as the No.1 UK campaigning business for its work on modern slavery and tackling loneliness with British Red Cross
  • made 71% of Co-op branded product packaging easy to recycle
  • became the first UK retailer to sell and use only Fairtrade cocoa in own-brand products
  • is the only major retailer to offer 100% British fresh meat
  • held the Fair Tax mark since 2015
  • raised over £8m from sales of its bottled water to fund water projects in partnership with The One Foundation over 11 years.

The report also includes three case studies to examine the Group’s wider social impact. They look at the Group-funded clean water projects in Malawi; its apprenticeship programme; and the Local Community Fund.

Member nominated director Paul Chandler said: “The Co-op’s ethical credentials are fundamental to our nature and purpose.  They keep us true to our co-operative values and principles, underpin our members’ trust and loyalty, and allow us to influence wider agendas and trends in business and society for the benefit of all.”

Mr Chandler said the report “provides evidence of our moving back into a true leadership position on ethics and sustainability” after the Group lost ground with the crisis of 2013.

He said a number of outcomes in the report “particularly resonate with me”, including the development of methodologies to measure social impact.

“We’re going to continue to evolve methodologies and extend impact measurement across other activities, and as part of this will need to do more to recognise negative impacts that our business inevitably brings as well as the positives,” he added.

Paul Chandler, a member nominated director

Mr Chandler also welcomed the progress on greenhouse gas emissions, recyclable packaging, social campaigning and Fairtrade – which he said “is always important to me” as a former CEO of Traidcraft.

He added: “This year is the first time we’ve published the Co-op Way Report at the same time as our audited financial report and accounts. This is to me highly symbolic of our commitment to giving sustainability and shared value measures equal importance to financial results.  

“As a member of the Board’s Risk and Audit Committee, I was also really pleased that we met with our sustainability assurance providers to discuss their findings and recommendations in same way that we meet with our financial auditors. This is more unusual than you might think.”

But he warned: “Of course, not everything is moving in our intended direction. There are some areas where we’ve not achieved what we might have hoped – and it’s right that in our report we’re transparent about this.”

These areas of concern, he said, are:

  • The volume of redistributed food surplus redistributed has gone down slightly.  
  • Absence rates, colleague turnover and perceptions of respect at work “aren’t where they should be, even if overall colleague engagement is at a good level compared to our peer group retailers”.  He said efforts to improve pay, promote diversity and inclusion, and support colleague health and well-being should improve this.
  • Trade with other co-operatives is still a small percentage of total turnover, other than the good growth in wholesale sales to independent co-operatives. Mr Chandler said: “The figure in the report is almost certainly understated because it’s quite hard to define and monitor – eg. a high proportion of Fairtrade products are produced by co-operatives in the developing world, but we actually buy them through social enterprises and private companies  so those volumes don’t count. It would be great to see us thinking more about how we can get better measures of what we do in this area.”

Mr Chandler added: “We now need to articulate clearer and longer-term priorities and sustainability targets on which we can really focus.

“We’ll aim to prioritise those goals that are distinctively co-operative or particularly relevant to the nature of our business activities, where the Co-op has a special role to play, and we must make sure they’re closely aligned to thrust of our commercial strategies as well as to our Values and Principles and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.” 

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