Responsible advertising will be on the agenda at the Co-op Group annual general meeting on 19 May, with a motion calling for the board to review and report on the impact of the organisation’s current advertising policy.
The member motion was submitted by Colin Baines, a former ethics adviser and campaigns manager for the Co-op Group, and non-executive director of Stop Funding Hate (SFH). It was backed by 200 other SFH-supporting Group members.
SFH began when a group of people came together online to express concern at the way certain newspapers were using hate and division to drive sales. “As newspaper sales decline, it’s the adverts which fund the hate that is being printed,” says the organisation.
In 2015, the UN human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, urged the UK to examine incitement to hatred in the UK media, specifically calling out the Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Express for their sustained attack on refugees and migrants.
On the back of this, SFH encourages people to take action to persuade companies to stop advertising in these newspapers. Lego and the Body Shop have both announced they would no longer be advertising in the Daily Mail. And the Phone Co-op is among several organisations which have committed to ethical advertising, promising not to advertise the Daily Mail, Daily Express or Sun.
Figures from SFH show that in the first 64 days of 2018, the Co-op Group advertised 53 times in the Daily Express and 42 times in the Daily Mail. The motion’s supporting statement notes that “the Ethical Consumer Research Association estimates the Co-operative Group spent nearly half a million pounds advertising in the Sun over a six-week period in Oct/Nov 2017, which only 5% of Co-operative Group members believe makes ‘a positive contribution to society’ (YouGov poll Dec 2017)”.
Another recent YouGov opinion poll found that 64% of Group members believe “companies should withdraw their advertising if it is placed next to content they think is racist, sexist, homophobic or xenophobic”, which SFH says has happened with Co-op Group adverts. Just 20% disagreed.
Mr Baines’s motion acknowledges that the Group has “responded positively to member concerns” on this issue and has introduced an advertising policy to “challenge those views expressed in print which we and many of our members believe are incompatible with our values”.
But the motion is now asking the board to report to members the specific issues the Group has engaged publications on; the impact of this engagement; and processes by which impact is monitored.
“If the board’s review finds it unable to report impact, we ask it to prepare an ethical advertising policy that puts controls in place to ensure adverts do not appear in media that are incompatible with co-operative ethics, values and principles,” adds the motion.
The Group’s National Member’s Council will be supporting the motion.
“We’re delighted that the National Members Council gave our motion its full support and members will get the opportunity to vote on this key responsible business issue,” said Mr Baines.
“Stop Funding Hate is all about positive engagement with advertisers and while it does not support the Co-op Group’s current policy of seeking to influence newspaper editorial as an advertiser, it does recognise the Group responded positively to member concerns.”
He added that the motion gives the Group the “opportunity to evidence its policy is having the desired impact of changing behaviour”. If it doesn’t, the motion goes on to call for “measures to ensure the Group’s considerable advertising budget does not fund media that goes against co-op ethics, values and principles”.
“We feel this is very reasonable and in the spirit of our positive engagement to date,” said Mr Baines.
“The motion rightly states that the Group leads the way on meaningful social responsibility policies and open and honest reporting on impact. However, I personally find it perplexing that there is no reference to the Group’s advertising policy, its implementation or impact, in the otherwise excellent 68 page Co-op Way Report, which meticulously covers all such policies.
“I have never before seen a relevant ethical or sustainability policy omitted from our acclaimed reporting like this, it does raise concerns.”
A spokesperson from the Co-op Group said: “We know our members’ opinions vary on this matter and it’s right to let them decide for themselves how they vote. We’ve responded positively to the concerns raised by some of our members and used advertising to challenge those stories that people have found unacceptable.
“We’re a democratic organisation and our Members’ Council has decided to indicate its support for this motion. The board believes it is for our members to decide on this matter and is remaining neutral.”
The full motion reads:
This AGM notes the concern from the United Nations and hate crime experts that some media outlets in the UK are fuelling and legitimising prejudice and an increase in hate crime. The Co-operative Group has responded positively to member concerns on this issue and has introduced an advertising policy to “challenge those views expressed in print which we and many of our members believe are incompatible with our values” and “use our contacts with publishers at every level to make the case for change”.
The Co-operative Group leads the way on meaningful social responsibility policies, including open and honest reporting on impact. We call upon the Board to review the impact of the current advertising policy and report to members: the specific issues publications have been engaged on; the impact of this engagement; and processes by which impact is monitored. If the Board’s review finds it unable to report impact, we ask it to prepare an ethical advertising policy that puts controls in place to ensure adverts do not appear in media that are incompatible with co-operative ethics, values and principles. We ask the Board to report on progress to the AGM in 2019.
- For more information about the Co-op Group AGM, visit co-operative.coop/get-involved/agm