Steve Murrells, chief executive of the Co-op Group, is calling for a retail industry response to key social, economic challenges today in a speech to the Westminster Business Forum in London.
Mr Murrells’s speech puts the focus on three connected areas: the climate emergency, strengthening communities and the forthcoming post-Brexit trade negotiations.
With regards to the climate emergency, he says the the retail sector should work more collaboratively and not to use the issue as a means of grandstanding on their own climate promises. Instead, he says, they should create a unified response to issues such as packaging, plastic and electric lorries.
And he warns that the most vulnerable members of society can’t be left with an unfair share of the cost if diets in the future have to change, and that communities should not be abandoned in the switch the zero carbon, as happened to coal-producing towns in the 1980s.
In terms of rebuilding a post-Brexit Britain, Mr Murrells calls for a healing of rifts which exist in the UK, rather than just protecting and strengthening the interests of the City. A sustainable solution can only be found if we genuinely face into the questions which surround individual and national identities, as well as community cohesion, he says.
The Co-op Group is a useful example here, he suggests: it found its groove again by drawing upon its founding principles, and the UK should likewise look at its inherent strengths.
He says a post-Brexit Britain must re-invest back into democracy in its widest sense, so that politics and local enterprises can be truly representative. As a business with its historical roots anchored in Manchester, the Co-op Group is seeing the benefits of a strong local democracy.
Finally, in respect of any forthcoming trade negotiations, Mr Murrells is urging those involved to deliver outcomes that strengthenwelfare standards rather than weakening them. He wants these to enable the Co-op Group to work easily with its nearest trading partners and allow its communities to prosper, but not to the detriment of the poorest in the world.
Highlighting the Group’s support for British farming and Fairtrade, he says ethical and sound sourcing decisions can assist domestic and global economies, while delivering great value produce to the tables of UK consumers.
He said: “As a nation we face many challenges, but these challenges can be overcome if we truly co-operate and pool our natural resources together. The climate emergency is upon us but there’s no need to be apocalyptic. We should instead be optimistic providing we take bold and collective action. This issue is too big for grand-standing, co-operation rather than competition must be the way forwards.
“For the retail sector, that means pooling our knowledge and working together to deliver a whole which is greater than the sum of the parts. No one retailer should carry the burden to make this happen, and the government needs to create a level playing field for business, through targets and legislation to back this up.”