Time to bring people-led campaigning back to co-ops?

There’s no easy getting away from the Co-operative Bank’s troubles of the past few years. Now that it is edging out of the storm, it has stuck to...

There’s no easy getting away from the Co-operative Bank’s troubles of the past few years. Now that it is edging out of the storm, it has stuck to its old ways by pledging its allegiance to the original ethical policy.

This move has been praised by the Save Our Bank campaigners, whose mission it was to ensure the bank stuck to this code.

But what about its commitment to promoting and sustaining the co-operative alternative? This was its pledge to the sector when it became an associate member of Co-operatives UK last year.

At the time, the Bank’s chief executive Niall Booker said: “Working with the wider co-operative and mutual sector, and adhering to co-operative and ethical values, is fundamental to our overall business plan to return the Co-operative Bank to its roots as a smaller, efficient bank focused on serving individuals and small- and medium-sized businesses.”

Co-operators will be keeping tabs on how this progresses. Especially as the largely private, investor-backed organisation has a licence to use the ‘co-operative’ name.

The ethical code, originally drawn up in 1992, was the world’s first customer-led policy and helped launch many campaigns – a mission it has pledged to continue. Highlights of those years include public policy pressure that helped ban land mines, as well as tackling human rights and debt in developing nations.

At the end of 2013, one of the people behind that policy, Paul Monaghan, wrote that the Bank of England wasn’t impressed with the initiative, while environmentalist Jonathon Porritt said the Co-operative Bank’s campaigns were as impressive as those from professional pressure groups. It was clearly groundbreaking.

People-led campaigns help show the co-operative difference. Today, campaigns can be started within minutes online and is an avenue largely unused by the movement.

Over the past 18 months, it has become obvious that the Co-operative Group’s campaigning activity has decreased. It may never again be as gutsy as it once was.

Maybe this void will be filled by the Co-operative Bank. In its renewed policy, it has touched on today’s issues with an update to its blacklisted companies to include gambling and fracking organisations, and pay day lenders.

Globally, there are plenty of world issues for the bank to choose from, especially if it involves highlighting the co-operative difference. Just take a look at agriculture, for example; food security is an important issue, with focus on grouping individual farmers in Asia and Africa into co-operatives to feed the future world.

And in the UK, dairy farmers are suffering through lower prices since milk production is on the increase globally, which is out of line with consumer demand.

The United Nations is deciding its agenda for the next 15 years following on from the Millennium Development Goals – many UN agencies, such as the International Labour Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization, support the co-operative difference for equality and sustainability throughout the world.

There are a 101 issues to choose from. But will the Co-operative Bank play it safe with a populist campaign, or will it be radical like the good ol’ days?

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