Interview: Paul Gerrard discusses how the Co-op Group reports social value

'Decide your purpose' and write reports for members

As the Co-op Group releases its Co-op Way report, which highlights the social value of the organisation, and the Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking statement, Co-op News talks with policy and campaigns director Paul Gerrard to find out more behind the thinking of the reports …

What planning goes into producing the Co-op Way report?
It starts with a small team of passionate colleagues at 1 Angel Square. The great thing about The Co-op is the people here want to do more than just make money. We know that we need to be financially viable, but we want to be different and live up to co-operative values and principles.

The report is a joint enterprise with elected members. It’s a great example of democracy that we co-created this with the Members’ Council, as we could not have done this without its support.

When looking at what we should focus on, we cannot try to do everything for everyone. We have to be great at a few things, the things that are important to our members So we first created a proposition looking at the issues. Then we look at how we can tell the story to people, our members, about this.

Related: Co-op Group shows its record in corporate responsibility

How important is membership in the process?
Our elected members are an important part. They not just only provide support, but they were fully engaged in developing the policies and what we report. This year, the report is written primarily for our members.

Previously the reports have been great for professional stakeholders especially with the detail that was throughout the report. Now we are writing the report for the members and while the detail is still there it is in a dedicated data pack in the report. It looks and feels different. It’s a different way of working that reflects what The Co-op difference is and is a result of working so closely with Council members.

What advice do you have for others wanting to compile such a report?
We’re fortunate that we’ve had reports like this for some years and in previous years we have rightly won awards for the quality of those reports – and many of the people behind those reports are still working here. They are experts at what they do.

But, if I were to look at lessons learned we’ve learned which others may want to reflect on, then I would say you have first to step back and be methodical about what you are trying to achieve and what you have achieved; honesty and transparency is important in everything that you do and publish.

You have to decide what’s important and what matters to you. The one lesson I have learned is that you can’t be known for everything. If you look at REI co-op in North America, they want to be known as an organisation that works outdoors and protects the outdoors. For them, that purpose is high.

The Group has outlined its strategy against human trafficking

How does The Co-op fit into this?
We’re fundamentally a campaigning organisation, and this is what we’re working to bring back to The Co-op. The Co-op Way report talks about what we have done in the past. But, what I’m most passionate about now is our plans for the future. This is why we’ve published our Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking statement on the same day, to show what we’re currently working on.

There are 13,000 statements out there, which is a legal requirement. But our statement puts us in a small group of businesses that have gone beyond the letter of the law. It shows a strategy that is live across our business.

Through our statement and the accompanying Co-op and Tackling Slavery report, we want to raise awareness of modern slavery because people do not think it happens here. There are more than 10,000 victims in this country. We also need to play our part by campaigning to get a better system of support for victims. Let’s get back to being that great campaigning organisation with a strong focus. We’re a co-op, so it feels very natural for us.

How are you progressing this campaign?
As a co-op, we need to do more to tackle the threat of modern-day slavery. If a co-op is about anything, it’s about people coming together. Some people are victims of modern day slavery, and we want to help them.

For example, we have launched a pilot of Project Bright Future, which helps victims of modern slavery to rebuild their lives. We do this by offering them paid work placements within our business. We’re rolling this out this year with new partnerships and looking to create 30 new opportunities across our business for victims of modern slavery.

Related: Group offers help to survivors of modern slave trade

How will you measure the success of the campaign?
The real test is how members engage in this. When we raise awareness of modern day slavery, we want to see how many members we can recruit as advocates of the campaign. Can we get thousands of members involved? How many will help run awareness sessions locally? Can they help charities achieve their aims? We want a whole broad movement of people involved to help the local charities that assist victims of modern day slavery.

This campaign is not just about the corporate voice; it’s all about getting members involved. Let’s use our 4.4 million members so we can change society for the better.

You mentioned that The Co-op cannot just achieve success by itself, so how would you like to see the campaign grow?
We are just one co-op, among 7,000 or so in Britain, so I would like to see if we can get all co-ops in this space. This speaks to what a co-op is. I am already in contact with some other co-ops that are interested in creating work placements for Project Bright Future.

We have got to come together to make sure the co-op sector is a place that is hostile to traffickers and supportive for victims. We need to come together to learn from and help each other. If we can help tackled modern day slavery, this would be a perfect example of why co-ops are the better.

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