Members of a new workers co-op popped a bottle of Fairtrade fizz to mark its registration as a company limited by guarantee. EthicalBay plans to build an online ethical marketplace, offering a co-operatively owned alternative to Amazon and eBay.
The seven founding members combine experience in project management, online retail, co-operatives, fundraising and computer science. The co-op also includes an elected member from the Co-operative Group.
It is asking fellow co-operators, ethical businesses and social entrepreneurs to register their interest and help the co-op develop. Co-founder Bob Thorp, a local authority manager, explains: “ethicalBay is a people and technology co-operative aiming to offer a multi-stakeholder approach to owning, building and running its website. The seven founding members share a growing dissatisfaction with the lack of values at internet giants like Amazon and eBay.
“We went looking for a co-operatively owned online marketplace selling ethical products and couldn’t find one. There are online shops, lots of good campaigns and some quality information such as Ethical Consumer magazine, but there’s no one single site where the discerning consumer can buy ethical goods and services, so we challenged ourselves to build one.”
The ethicalBay marketplace will be co-operatively owned by producers and consumers. “Being ethical begins with who owns the company,” said Mr Thorp.
“Direct ownership models enable people to participate, share the work and share the rewards fairly. Our other two core values are ‘be sustainable’ and ‘do no harm’.
Make, sell and buy goods and services in ways that are fair and don’t damage people, society or the natural environment.”
While many tech companies have a single charismatic leader with a strong vision backed by venture capital, ethicalBay will not accept venture capital and will seek only ethical funding. The site and business are not yet fully formed so stakeholders can be part of the decision-making process.
Co-founder Richard Dillon, elected member of the Co-operative Group’s West Yorkshire area committee and a nurse by trade, says: “We’re looking at a building a process of participatory co-creation, aiming to be flat and networked, using consensus decision-making.
“That’s going to be tough, inventing a new democratic structure as well as a viable business. This is potentially the most radical part of the offer. Others have proved that online markets and shops work, but none started from the premise that it can be done ethically from the beginning.”