Co-op Group members met in Manchester on Saturday for the retailer’s annual general meeting where they voted on a total of 11 motions.
After receiving the annual report and accounts (Motion 1, carried with 98% votes in favour), members voted to approve and Director’s Remuneration (Motion 2, carried with 89% of votes in favour) and the executive pay policy (Motion 3, carried with 84% of votes in favour).
The Pay Policy in its entirety was last voted on by members at the 2016 AGM. In 2018, members supported a change to the maximum amount payable to the chief executive for performance related pay, increasing the part of pay which links to performance.
At the AGM, member Vivian Woodell called on the Group to take a leading role in addressing the issue of pay ratios. “If you pay very high salaries you will attract people interested in high salaries.” He added that Co-op chair Allan Leighton was giving up his entire Co-op fee to charity.
Stevie Spring independent non-executive director and chair of the Co-op’s Remuneration Committee responded by highlighting that “nobody has absolute value.” She added that Co-op CEO Steve Murrells was “one of the best leaders in the industry”.
“We have to recognise we need the best talent to make sure our Co-op is here for the next 175 years,” she said. The Group held executive salaries for the fourth year in a row.
The retailer has awarded a 25% increase in frontline food store staff pay over the past four years, over period of the remuneration committee, she added. It also did not reduce rates for younger colleagues or apprenticeships, unlike other competitors, added Ms Spring.
Mr Leighton added: “We’re trying to create a pay regime that is fit for purpose for a co-op.
“We’re in a competitive environment so not easy to make changes to executive pay. There is not a better CEO we could have for this organisation,” he said.
Referring to colleague pay, he said it was an affordability issue but the Group aimed to increase it further with another £30-40m allocated for this next year.
Allan Leighton (Motion 4) and Sir Christopher Kelly (Motion 5) were also re-elected as independent non-executive directors, with 95% and, respectively, 94% of votes in favour.
Members also voted in favour of electing Rahul Powar as an independent non-executive director (Motion 6, carried with 94% of votes in favour).
The AGM re-appointed consultancy firm Ernst and Young as auditors of the Group, with the risk and Audit Committee due to fix their remuneration (Motion 7, carried with 92% of votes in favour).
With the adoption on Motion 8, the Co-op Group will remain a subscribing member of the Co-operative Party. The joint Council and Board motion, which is advisory only, was carried with 78% of votes in favour.
At last year’s AGM member agreed funding of £625,600 for 2019.
Motion 8 also stipulates the Co-op Group is able to make additional small donations to other political parties, campaigns and organisations which support co-operative values and principles, with total political expenditure not exceeding £750,000.
Motion 9 saw Co-op Group members vote in favour of an advisory motion to maintain levels of investment in technology and security measures to keep colleagues safe. This motion was adopted with 98% of votes in favour.
The joint board and council motion highlights “the unprecedented levels of violent, weaponised attacks on Co-op colleagues throughout the UK.”
In December the Group published the Safer Colleagues, Safer Communities report, which shows the retailer has spent £70m since 2015 in an attempt to protect colleagues from violent incidents. The Co-op spends around £9,000 per year in each of its 2,500 stores for security measures. High-risk stores received upgraded CCTV in 2018, with an additional £4.5m being spent on new headsets to improve service and security in stores.
The AGM also passed an advisory motion asking the Co-op Group’s board to further strengthen support for Fairtrade.
Motion 10 encourages the Group’s board to campaign and communicate about the Fairtrade difference, helping shoppers to appreciate the Fairtrade mark certification. Members also ask the board to increase the visibility of Fairtrade products in shops and promote these all year round. This motion passed with 98% of votes in favour.
It suggests reviewing the possibilities for strengthening and extending the current Fairtrade range thus allowing customers to increase their support for Fairtrade producers. It also proposes making the Co-op website the “go to digital hub” to find local, national and internationally available Fair Trade products and businesses.
The board is asked to fully report the Co-op’s financial support of Fairtrade, including the value of Fairtrade and its impact on producer communities.
The AGM also adopted Motion 11, a Council motion which calls on the Group’s Board to intensify responsible sourcing.
Introducing the motion, council member Susan Smith said: “If we want to be around for another 175 years we need to have more responsible sourcing.”
Adopted with 99% of the votes in favour, the advisory motion asks the board to publish plans for the responsible sourcing of key ingredients and resources used across the Co-op. In addition, the motion encourages the retailer to promote and develop digital tools that measure the environmental and ecological footprints of Co-op products.