Fair Tax and study days at Unicorn workers co-op

Manchester-based workers co-operative Unicorn Grocery has been awarded the Fair Tax Mark for its open and responsible tax practices.

Championed by co-ops, the Fair Tax Mark can be awarded to organisations that are transparent about their tax affairs and seek to pay the right amount of corporation tax at the right time in the right place.

“We applied for the Mark because we are committed to paying our fair share of tax,” said a Unicorn spokesperson.

“It feels quite strange applying to be accredited for something that’s so obviously the right and honest thing to do, but unfortunately that doesn’t mean it always happens. We hope that in the future it will be the companies without the Mark that are viewed as unusual.

“It’s only what our customers would expect from us. We hope that the more businesses have it, the more it will encourage others who are already paying fair taxes to sign up and get accredited.”

Founded 20 years ago in Chorlton, south Manchester, Unicorn is one of the UK’s largest independent wholefood shops, seeking to provide affordable, wholesome, well-sourced food to its local community.

The Fair Tax Mark highlights enterprises who pay the correct amount of tax, and works to stop corporate tax avoidance
The Fair Tax Mark highlights enterprises who pay the correct amount of tax, and works to stop corporate tax avoidance

“Unicorn Grocery is exactly the kind of business we love to work with,” said Emily Kenway, director of the Fair Tax Mark.

“As a co-operative with a focus on wholesome yet affordable foods, they embody business with a conscience. We hope their leadership will encourage other retailers to follow, helping them get ahead of the competition on the high street.”

This year Unicorn received the Soil Association’s Best Independent Retailer 2016 award, and has also recently invited like-minded co-ops and social enterprises to a free study day to help support and grow the sector.

Through the study day, the organisation aims to share its experiences of how it operates, through a tour of the shop and site plus meetings with co-op members involved in buying, HR, marketing and co-op structure.

The study day will include a tour of the co-operative’s store and site

In 2004 the co-op published the Unicorn Grow a Grocery Guide, and since then has hosted regular study days and arranged visits from people who currently work in shops.

“The Grow a Grocery Guide can start people down the path to starting, growing or changing into a co-op,” says Leah de Quattro, worker-member at Unicorn. “Study Days are a good chance to get into more detail and ask questions about our structure and business model.

“We want to see more shops like Unicorn in the UK, and we hope we can help make that reality by offering a bit of support and guidance in the early days. We have found other co-ops’ experiences massively useful over the years so we hope we can do the same.”

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How the co-op undertakes the day to day running of a grocery retail store differs from a conventional business in “many ways”, she adds.

“Probably one of the biggest impacts is that, as individuals we stand behind and support decisions and processes in all parts of the business. With consensus decision making and a hefty dose of trusting our colleagues, there is no ‘us’ and ‘them’ – we all learn to see from different perspectives, and these many varied perspectives constantly feed into all aspects of the business.”

Unicorn’s next study days are taking place on 2 November (an in-depth day for smaller shops looking to get bigger) and 8 November (waiting list only), but is fully booked up and has a waiting list, but anyone who cannot be fitted in will be first to hear about the next study day. It can also host small numbers of people for a more in-depth visit over a number of days, and on occasion can visit or do work exchanges with other co-ops.