At the Co-operative Group AGM, members voted to support sustainability, Fairtrade and co-operation among co-operatives. The motion was put forward by the Group’s council to emphasise the importance of ethics and sustainability for the business.
The council has been working with the business to review its performance against ethical and sustainability targets. The meeting called on the board to continue to place ethics and sustainability at the centre of the Group and to ensure the achievement of shared, and where appropriate, externally audited standards of ethics and sustainability. The motion also asked for “specific, measurable goals” to ensure both achievement of standards and the embedding of ethics and sustainability throughout the business. Both the board and the council recommended voting for this motion.
Another motion put forward by the council encouraged the Group to continue to work with other co-operatives and the wider co-operative movement, in line with the sixth co-operative principle – co-operation among co-operatives.
In particular, the motion stimulated the Group to develop a co-operative procurement strategy and include in its annual report to members a statement highlighting the application of Principle 6 to its activities each year and developing relevant key performance indicators in this area. By supporting the motion, members also encouraged co-operative development and a broader understanding of co-operatives; locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.
Introducing the motion, senate member from Loughborough, Jenny de Villiers, said: “Over the past 20 years, we have sought to promote, unite and develop co-ops, particularly this co-op. The sixth principle states that co-ops serve their members most effectively and strengthen the co-operative movement by working together with organisations nationally and internationally.”
The AGM voted in favour of this motion, as recommended by both the board and the council.
Fairtrade was also on the agenda at the Group’s AGM. A motion calling on the board and the executive to provide a review of range and availability of Fairtrade products in store was supported by members. They also asked for a review of the Group’s Fairtrade policy over the next 12 months. Other proposals included actively promoting Fairtrade and Fairtrade products through advertising and promotion in stores and a programme of membership activity to ensure that stores carry at least one Fairtrade item within relevant categories once the True North range review has been completed.
The motion, which was put forward by independent society members argued that the Group’s Fairtrade range was ahead of convenience competitors but added that some products such as honey, ale, orange juice, charcoal, cotton wool and muesli had been de-ranged.
“This is not consistent with the response to the 2015 AGM motion which acknowledged previous deletions but advised that ‘Going forward we don’t expect to cut any deeper and in some cases, where demand is sufficient, we will look to extend’,” read the motion.
The motion further asked the council to monitor the board and the executive’s performance against these objectives as part of its “holding to account” role.
At last year’s AGM members asked the board to increase the range and availability of Fairtrade products in stores and to have targets for the conversion of own brand products to Fairtrade. In response, last summer the Group launched its Fairtrade policy to provide the business with ongoing direction and guidance on how to protect and build its Fairtrade position.
The first major UK retailer to promote Fairtrade, the Co-operative Group is the UK’s largest convenience seller of Fairtrade products. As part of its Fairtrade policy, it has switched its entire own-brand hollow Easter Eggs and sugar category to Fairtrade. It also runs Beyond Fairtrade projects to support producers with more benefits than just the Fairtrade premium.
Introducing the motion, Ruth FitzJohn, president of the Midcounties Co-operative, said: “More has to be done, Fairtrade is one of our key things differentiating us, I want to be able to shop for Fairtrade at local store for more than chocolate, bananas and wine. Members want to shop for Fairtrade products at all shops”.
Some AGM delegates expressed concern over the Group’s move to delist certain Fairtrade products in some shops. Over the past 12 months the Co-operative has delisted 8 products and listed 10 new products, said chair Allan Leighton, adding it was offering a total of 206 Fairtrade products across its shops. “It’s one of our differences and that’s what we’re doing. It is probably our most successful year ever on Fairtrade and the Fairtrade team have done a fantastic job.”
Also addressing the AGM, Mike Gidney, chief executive of the Fairtrade Foundation, congratulated the Co-operative Group for pioneering Fairtrade products such as sugar and Easter eggs.
“It’s making an enormous difference”, he said. “That’s leadership, no other retailer has done that. You have gone the extra mile in telling that story to the public”.
As one of our longest standing Fairtrade champions, the Co-op has helped to transform the lives of people in farming communities worldwide
Mr Gidney also highlighted that the Group’s Fairtrade offer was not just about quantity, but also about quality. “I agree with aspiration to see Fairtrade offer increase – the urgency is very clear”.
He gave the example of a project initiated by the Co-operative in Kenya a few years ago, going outside the normal supply base and working with 11,000 small tea holders. The Co-operative helped them organise in co-ops and achieve Fairtrade certification. “You helped them move forward and they are now co-operators themselves. That’s pioneering,” he told the AGM.
The Co-operative is the largest Fairtrade wine supplier in the world and the largest convenience retailer for Fairtrade products.
“As one of our longest standing Fairtrade champions, the Co-op has helped to transform the lives of people in farming communities worldwide and this additional £3m commitment is further fantastic news for farmers. These new commitments mean farmers and workers in the Fairtrade system will gain greater opportunities to access the UK market, benefit from increased sales and Premium funds, resulting in greater investment back into their businesses and communities. We thank the Co-op’s management, members and customers for their continued support and look forward to working together more to achieve the most impact for Fairtrade producers.”
“Since last year’s AGM the Co-operative has continued to lead the way for Fairtrade across a range of products, converting its entire sugar range and own-brand chocolate Easter eggs to be 100% Fairtrade. It is also the largest retailer of Fairtrade wine, which delivers two thirds of all sales in the UK. To celebrate the innovative Growing Stories website, which enables people to find out more about their food by communicating directly with producers, today, any messages shared on the site will see the Co-operative donate £5 to an extra development fund for producers,” he said.
Motion 14 – carried by 97.73%
Motion 15 – carried by 98.89%
Motion 17 – carried by 94.20%