UK co-op sector responds to Ukraine war

Various support efforts have been announced, and a number of co-ops have removed Russian vodka from their shelves

UK co-ops have announced a number of actions taking in response to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

More than 1 million people have already fled their homes to escape the conflict, with 4 million predicted to be displaced.

After being “inundated with members wanting to help those affected by the terrible crisis in the Ukraine”, Co-operatives UK, together with the members of its International Working Group, is recommending donations to be sent to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Ukraine appeal, launched on 2 March. The DEC brings together 15 UK humanitarian aid charities, which Co-operatives UK has recommended to members as a reputable coalition of charities providing on-the-ground support. 

The International Working Group (IWG) includes representatives from Co-operatives UK, the Co-op College, the Worker Co-op Council and Co-op News, as well retail co-ops Midcounties, Central England and the Co-op Group. It was established to support the co-ordination and delivery of the UK co-op movement’s international activity.

In addition to the DEC appeal, the IWG has established contact with co-operative networks in Poland to determine what they may need to support huge numbers of displaced people from Ukraine.

Contact has also been made between the IWG and co-op unions in Ukraine. In response, Illia Gorokhovskyi, chair of the board of COOP Ukraine, wrote: “The sense of justice and the support we feel from co-ops around the world gives us strength, and right now it is the greatest help we need.”

Rose Marley, CEO of Co-operatives UK, said: “We have been heartened by the show of solidarity from the UK co-op movement and will provide our support through the IWG.

“Communication with our Ukrainian and Polish counterparts has been established but as you can imagine this is patchy and it may be a while before we can determine what practical support they need from us. We will continue to keep our members updated as soon as we know more.”

Midcounties’ chief values officer, Peter Westall, said: “The large consumer co-ops, in particular, have been working closely together under the lead of the IWG, and Co-ops UK, to ensure a swift and positive co-operative response to a humanitarian disaster.

“Funds raised as part of this initial response will give members and colleagues a route to donate to the Disaster Emergency Committee’s Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal, with funds going towards helping provide food, water, shelter and healthcare to refugees and displaced families. Rose Marley and Sarah Alldred [head of international partnerships at the Co-operative College] in particular have facilitated swift co-ordination and co-operation across the movement during the last few days as the situation has unfolded.”

Mr Westall added that in line with other co-ops, Midcounties has sent communications to colleagues and members, via email and its member app, advising how they can donate – whether in store at till points, online or via text message. “The text facility is again the same one that will be used by ourselves, the Group and others to ensure clarity and simplicity for all co-op members, regardless of the society they are members of.”

Heart of England Co-op has also taken steps to support Ukraine. It says it is working in partnership with Co-operatives UK and other societies nationally and is placing collection tins in each of its 36 Food stores and 16 Funeral homes across Coventry, Warwickshire, south Leicestershire and Northamptonshire.

CEO Ali Kurji said: “As a society, we have been touched by the tragedy in the Ukraine and have decided to support wherever we can, through collections in every one of our stores and funeral homes.

“We invite our members and customers to donate anything they can to help support the refugees and citizens of Ukraine.”

He added: “We will be joining with Co-ops UK in this heartfelt appeal for the citizens of Ukraine which we hope in some way will help their plight in these tragic circumstances.”

Meanwhile, Lincolnshire Co-op is supporting a collection by the Polish School in Lincoln by setting up donation points at all its pharmacies. The collection is gathering essential items including toiletries, nappies, sleeping bags and blankets and first aid supplies, which will be transported to Poland and distributed by Fundacja Ermed, a charity working on the ground to support Ukrainians. Lincolnshire has published a full list of items currently needed on its website

Worker-owned John Lewis Partnership has announced a £100,000 donation to the British Red Cross Ukraine Crisis Appeal and will also match public donations up to an additional £150,000. In a statement, the partnership’s chair, Sharon White, said: “I am deeply distressed by the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine – innocent people losing their lives, their loved ones, their homes, and families being separated.

“My thoughts are with the people of Ukraine and everyone affected by this terrible war. We all share a common humanity and all conflicts – near and far – strike at the heart of our values.”

Central England Co-operative has removed Russian Vodka from its shelves

In addition to fundraising efforts, a number of independent co-operative retail societies across the UK have removed certain Russian products from their shelves, including the Co-op Group, Scotmid, Lincolnshire, Central England and Southern Co-op.

Central England Co-op has pulled Russian vodka brands from its shelves, leaving them empty, with a statement reading: “We stand with all Ukrainians and Russians calling for peace”.

Southern Co-op has removed Russian vodka, telling Co-op News it is: “gravely concerned by the situation in Ukraine and the devastating consequences this is having on its people, many of whom have fled the country. We are joining with others in doing what we can to support those caught up in this terrible conflict including making a donation of £10,000 to the Disasters Emergency Committee’s appeal. We will also be making it possible for our customers to add to this by making their own donations via our till points.  

“We will be standing alongside a number of co-operative retailers in the UK and removing all Russian Standard vodka from sale.”

Similarly,  NFU Mutual has announced a £150,000 donation to support communities affected by the crisis in Ukraine, which will be made through the NFU Mutual Charitable Trust.

Jim McLaren MBE, chair of the NFU Mutual Charitable Trust, said: “Right across the UK we are seeing extraordinary efforts by farmers, rural communities and the farming unions to support and show solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

“This devastating crisis has touched everyone and people are desperate to help. Some will have worked alongside Ukrainian colleagues on British farms and are deeply concerned for their Ukrainian friends and their families, others will be watching the terrible events unfold at home and want to do all they can to support the victims of the crisis.

“As a mutual, we support the issues that are important to our members and we hope our special donation of £150,000 to the Disasters Emergency Committee Appeal will help further the incredible support shown by farmers across the UK.

“Many NFU Mutual staff and Agents are already supporting the people of Ukraine through their own efforts with a range of activities, from setting up donation stations to fundraising in the communities they serve.”