THE Co-operative Group is the leading UK supermarket in a study of supermarkets and sustainability, coming top in six out of seven categories.
The report ? Race to the Top, from the New Economics Foundation ? says that the largest supermarkets have turned their back on engaging in the project that attempted to carve a path between supermarkets and their critics.
"Supermarkets are now the main gatekeepers to the food system, with the top five accounting for 70 per cent of the food retail market," said Deborah Doane of the New Economics Foundation. "The unwillingness of many to be measured openly on social and environmental impacts shows a disregard for public concerns around sustainable development. Their concentration of power must be matched by equal levels of accountability."
Race to the Top is the most exhaustive and wide-ranging survey into supermarkets and sustainability yet. It scrutinised each company's commitment to sustainable development, from energy usage and waste management, the treatment of its labour force, how it deals with farmers, measures to protect the countryside and wildlife, whether it contributes to public health goals, to how it supports local economies.
The project brought together 24 partner organisations, including environmental and wildlife groups, trades unions, farming organisations, consumer representatives, Fairtrade, public health and animal welfare groups.
Three retailers (the Co-operative Group, Safeway and Somerfield) took part in the 2003 data collection process. Iceland, Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury participated in 2002, but declined to in 2003. Asda, Tesco, Waitrose and Morrisons chose not to participate at all.
David Croft, The Co-operative Group's Head of Co-op Brand and Technical, said: "It is rewarding to have this independent review that supports the policy positions we at the Co-op have adopted, but there is also a broader question to be answered.
"Customers and shareholders of the major retailers who aren't taking part in this initiative should be asking the question: ?why?' What have they to hide?
"No one retailer has all the answers, but by all working together on this initiative we can establish a framework of best practice."