Co-operative Group unveils an ethical ‘revolution’

An ambitious ethical plan has been unveiled by the Co-operative Group, which aims to increase the society’s membership to 20 million by 2020.

A number of ethical pledges have been made by the Group, and will form the main part of advertising campaign in March encouraging shoppers to become members and join ‘The Co-operative Revolution’.

Among the goals in Ethical Operating Plan, which includes all the society’s businesses, are:

• The toughest operational carbon reduction targets of any major business, and the deployment of £1billion of green energy finance by 2013

• The most radical Fairtrade conversion programme ever undertaken

• The world’s first ethically screened general insurance products

• A three-fold increase in membership from 6 million to 20 million by 2020

• Significantly enhanced funding for co-operative enterprises and schools  

Group Chief Executive Peter Marks said: "Our ambition is to build a better society and this Plan will stimulate and reinforce the unique benefit of the consumer co-operative model.

“At a time when UK society is picking up the pieces from a recession exacerbated by corporate greed and speculation, we are seeking to show that there is another way. The plc model is not the only game in town. It is possible for business to embrace the efficiencies of the market economy and also the need for robust legislation to ensure that progress is sustainable and just.   

“Taken together, we believe the measures and pledges set out in our Ethical Plan raise the bar on corporate sustainability. Over the next 10 years working with our customers, members, suppliers, staff and communities we believe we really can make Britain even better.“ 

Leading environmentalist Jonathon Porritt said: “By launching this Ethical Plan, the Co-operative is taking corporate sustainability into a new era. Other businesses will now be seeking to benchmark themselves against this Plan”.

Peter Holbrook, Chief Executive of the Social Enterprise Coalition, said the plans were bold and exciting: “The strategy demonstrates a bold, exciting vision and approach. Talk of a revolution is what’s required to change the way that UK business is done. 

“The Co-operative Group is a leading light for the UK’s social enterprise movement and this strategy demonstrates a commitment to ethical, sustainable business practice. 

"The plans will no doubt capitalise on the current public mood – research tells us that there has been a shift in consumer thinking following the financial crisis. People do not want businesses to damage communities – they want businesses to help solve our social and environmental problems. Businesses need to show how they’ll play a role in the Big Society and this is how it’s done.” 

In total there are 47 distinct targets within The Co-operative’s Ethical Plan, which will be reported on each year within The Group’s sustainability report, a globally recognised leader in terms of transparency, materiality and independent audit.  

Key targets set out in the Plan include growing membership to 20 million people by 2020, and to be opened up to under 16s as soon as legally possible. The dividend scheme will also be amended to reward ethical shoppers.

Insurance products from Co-operative Financial Services will also be ethically screened; and financial support for energy projects will increase from £400m to £1 billion by 2013.

The Group’s carbon emissions will also be cut by 35 per cent by 2017, having already achieved a 20 per cent cut since 2006.

There will also be biodiversity work in areas such as wood and fish, as well as seeking to ban chemicals such as endosulfan and paraquat.

Co-operatives will also be supported through an investment of £11m by 2013, and the launch of a £20m international Co-operative Development Loan Fund.

In tackling global poverty, the Group said if any products “can be Fairtrade, it will be Fairtrade”. It estimates that by 2013, some 90 per cent of the primary commodities sourced from the developing world will be certified to Fairtrade standards.

Harriet Lamb, Executive Director of the Fairtrade Foundation, welcomed the Group’s extended commitment to Fairtrade. 

She said: “At the check-out, there is a modern day revolution going on as people flex their consumer muscles to demand and look for Fairtrade products in order to drive social, economic and environmental changes in the way our food, drink and clothes are made and traded. At the forefront of those changes is The Co-operative and its six million members — a living example of just how much ordinary people can achieve when they put their minds to tackling injustice.”

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