Two sessions at Co-operatives UK‘s 2016 Co-operative Retail Conference looked at how the ethics and values within co-op retailers should remain a priority, and how it was still an area with room for improvement.
The first session explored at co-operatives’ attitudes to providing for older and disabled customers. Mark Beasley from the Mature Marketing Association described how many retailers failed to engage effectively with older consumers, an increasing problem in a society where in ten years time there will be more people aged over 50 than under 50.
Asking the question ‘Is the UK an ageist society?’, Mr Beasley spoke of how retailers routinely patronised older consumers through marketing, often portraying them as rather feeble, or just ignoring them altogether.
But, according to Mr Beasley, co-ops are ideally placed to cater for an older demographic. Located at the heart of the community, their emphasis on local, convenient stores with an ethical profile would seem suited to a social group that is, in general, more willing to pay a little more for a quality product.
Likewise, supporting customers with disabilities is an area where retailers have room for improvement. Teresa Perchard presented results from the Extra Costs Commission, a year-long inquiry launched by Scope into how markets can cater for the 12 million disabled people in the UK. The research showed that households with a disabled person spend £420m each week; by failing to tap into this ‘purple pound’, co-op retailers could be missing out on a share of £212bn every year, said Ms Perchard.
She added that while living costs for families with disabled people amount to an extra £550 per month, average welfare payments only amount to about £360. But as well as price, staff attitudes and store accessibility are equally – if not more – important.
Ms Perchard urged co-op retailers to be aware that disabled people rated good accessibility and friendly and helpful staff, as the most important factors when shopping.
On the theme of contributing to the community, Laura Carstensen, from the Co-operative Bank, began the second session by admitting the organisation was still paying the price for turmoil caused by the split from the Co-op Group at the end of 2013. “We’ve had a recent history that’s had an impact on the trust of the Bank,” she said.
She pointed to the ways in which the Bank was aiming to improve its ethical culture, through initiatives such as the Hive development hub with Co-operatives UK and the My Money, My Life campaign with Refuge. On the subject of diversity, Ms Perchard also admitted that the Bank could do better: 65% of employees are women, but just 22% of the board.
This issue of diversity was also explored by Darren Newman from In-Company Training Services, who explained how new employment law, to be introduced from 30 April 2017, was aiming to get organisations to publish information on the difference between male and female pay.
Still very much in its early stages, the legislation has yet to be finalised, but Mr Newman can already see severe limitations. It will only apply to organisations with more than 250 employees, and organisations which fail to provide the information will receive no fine, no penalties and there will be no enforcement mechanism.
And when organisations do publish information, it will only show who’s being paid more, not who’s doing equal work, he said. “It’s perfectly possible to have a large gender pay gap and not have anything unlawful happening in your organisation. Equally, you could have no gender pay gap and a lot of discrimination.”
Some co-ops will hold a ‘dry run’ this year, using 30 April 2016 as the measuring date in preparation for next year’s launch.
Mr Newman ended with a broader look at how the gender pay gap was a limited device for measuring discrimination.
“My worry is that, with the gender pay gap, people will work to that measure,” he said. Instead, organisations should address job segregation and look at why some jobs are mainly done by men or women.
Read more: Full coverage of the conference.