The Co-operative launches largest ethical shopping survey ever 04.09.07
The recently merged Co-operative Group and United Co-operatives is to question its 4 million members on the future of its ethical food policy. This is the largest poll of ethics ever undertaken in the UK and will guide the business’s future responsible retailing strategy.
Following initial engagement with members, via focus groups and in-depth discussions, a comprehensive questionnaire has been produced in which members are asked to prioritise issues such as climate change, packaging reduction, healthy eating, food labelling, Fairtrade, animal welfare, sustainable sourcing and community support.
The Co-operative has previously undertaken dialogue to inform its policies – in both 1994 and 2004, 30,000 people were consulted in the groundbreaking Shopping with Attitude research. However, never before have members and customers been given a vote in such numbers.
Moreover, the 2007 poll will seek, for the first time, to recognise that sometimes issues develop and hard choices need to be faced.
For example, the drive to reduce “food miles” and reduce carbon dioxide could have real social impacts on third world growers as supply chains are redirected more locally; the push for packing reduction and light weighting could see retailers move from glass to PVC and create toxicity concerns.
In both instances, The Co-operative is asking members to consider the adoption of truly sustainable positions, and to not consider issues in isolation.
Peter Marks, Chief Executive, Co-operative Trading Group, said: “This consultation with our members reinforces our unique approach to responsible retailing.
“We are determined not to pursue lazy thinking, such as air plane logos on air-freighted produce, and instead take a more considered approach – one consistent with a business that was founded to tackle responsible retailing from the outset. Our members will help establish our ethical priorities for the next three to five years and will be a constant means of obtaining a mandate for our actions.” Paul Monaghan, the Co-Op’s head of ethics who designed the survey, speaking to the Guardian newspaper said, "The drive to reduce ’food miles’ and reduce carbon dioxide could have real social impacts on third world growers as supply chains are redirected more locally," he said.
"The carbon produced by Kenyan roses is a fifth of that used to grow Dutch roses because of the heating and lighting."
"We will never do airplane logos. It is lazy thinking and it is dangerous," he said.
Mr Monaghan said: "There is a whole series of decisions like this which are being taken which are wrong because people aren’t joining the issues up."
The Co-operative Group has a long tradition of ethical business practices across all of its businesses, including The Co-operative Bank and Co-operative Insurance, driven by the active involvement of member-customers. The Co-operative is regarded as the top ethical retailer in the UK, due to its pioneering credentials in areas such as Fairtrade and climate change. In 1992, the Co-op was the first supermarket to embrace Fairtrade by stocking Cafédirect and followed this in 2000 by introducing the UK’s first Fairtrade bananas.
In terms of environmental initiatives, the Group led the switch to green electricity back in 1998 and its green credentials were further underlined last year when it became the first major retailer in the UK to switch all its mainland outlets to green electricity. In 2007, the Group’s pioneering work on climate change saw it recognised as the winner of the Business Commitment to the Environment Awards, the Renewable Energy Awards and it was declared the UK’s greenest high street retailer by the BBC’s Money Programme.
The membership network across the Co-operative Movement will be involved in the food ethical policy consultation process. As well as the four million members of The Co-operative Group, several other co-operative societies are involving their members in the discussion.
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