The Co-operative Group
|Founded||December 13, 1844|
|Headquarters||One Angel Square,
NOMA, Manchester, United Kingdom
Number of locations
|Revenue||£9,746. million (2014)|
Number of employees
|Over 70,000 (2015)|
|Subsidiaries||Manx Co-operative Society (Est. 1920)
The Co-operative Bank (20%)
The Co-operative Electrical
The Co-operative Food
The Co-operative Funeralcare
The Co-operative Insurance
The Co-operative Legal Services
The Co-operative Travel (30%)
The Co-operative Group is a British consumer cooperative with a diverse range of retail businesses. It is co-operatively run and owned by its members. It is the largest organisation of this type in the UK, with 8 million members, who have a say in how the business is run and how its social goals are achieved. The group comprises a family of businesses, including: Food, Financial Services, Funeralcare, Legal Services and Electricals. The Co-operative Group has adopted The Co-operative brand which is used by many consumers' co-operatives in the UK. The organisation is by far the largest of the consumers' co-operatives which collectively are often referred to in the UK as The Co-op.
Membership is open to everyone aged 16 and over, provided they share the values and principles upon which the group was founded. Every year members receive a share of the group's profit, based on the total amount of profit made, and the amount of money they spent with the organisation in that year. Its slogan is "Here for you for life".
The Co-operative Group has over 100,000 employees across the UK. The group has headquarters in Manchester on a listed eight-building estate which includes the CIS Tower, Hanover Building, New Century House and Redfern Building. The group's head office is One Angel Square which opened in 2013. The Group manages the Co-operative brand and The Co-operative Federal Trading Services, formerly the Co-operative Retail Trading Group (CRTG), which sources and promotes goods for food stores of the co-operative movement.
- 1 History
- 2 Businesses
- 3 Governance
- 4 Marketing and brands
- 5 Dividend and membership scheme
- 6 Executive remuneration
- 7 Co-operative practices
- 8 Ethical trading and campaigning
- 8.1 Fairtrade
- 8.2 Animal welfare
- 8.3 Responsible fish sourcing
- 8.4 Community dividend
- 8.5 Co-operative development
- 8.6 Climate change and "clean energy"
- 8.7 Food labelling
- 8.8 Israeli settlement boycott
- 8.9 Pesticides and toxic chemicals
- 8.10 Genetic modification
- 8.11 Waste reduction and carrier bags
- 8.12 Supply chain efficiency
- 9 Political ties
- 10 List of corporate members
- 11 Awards
- 12 Controversies
- 13 See also
- 14 Notes
- 15 References
- 16 External links
The Co-operative Group developed over 165 years from the merger of co-operative wholesale societies and many independent retail societies, changing from a wholesale operation to a major retailer. The group's roots are traced beyond the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers established 1844. The eight Rochdale Principles included distributing a share of profits according to purchases that came to be known as 'the divi'. In 1863, the North of England Co-operative Wholesale Industrial and Provident Society Limited was launched in Manchester by 300 individual co-operatives in Yorkshire and Lancashire. By 1872, it was known as the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) and it was wholly owned by the co-operatives which traded with it. The business grew rapidly from its origins in buying food for co-op shops into a huge manufacturing business and competed fiercely with other wholesalers for business from retail co-operatives. Throughout the 20th century, smaller societies merged with the CWS, including the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society (SCWS) in 1973 and the London-based South Suburban Co-operative Society in 1984. It was these mergers with consumers' co-operatives which led to the co-op having both corporate (co-op societies) and individual members and hence making it both a primary and secondary co-operative.
The Co-operative Independent Commission (1958) was tasked with investigating the decline in the co-op movement and for making recommendations for revitalising the movement in the future. Its recommendations had two main thrusts: that a strong response to the emerging multiple-store supermarket chains was needed and that the co-op needed to come to terms with the rise in consumerism and to move away from its association with the 'working poor' rather than a more prosperous working class. This was not to say that the co-op had not been opening self-service stores and supermarkets. In 1942 the London Co-operative Society opened its first self-service shop and, by 1950, 90% of self-service shops in the UK were run by co-operatives. However, the report suggested that the co-op needed to become more responsive to the grocery market by being more competitive on price, by rationalising on unprofitable stores and by recruiting professional managers. Little action came of the report, however, and the movement (including the CWS) remained largely unreformed with its grocery market share continuing its downward trend.
By the 1990s, CWS's share of the grocery market had declined and the viability of its business model was in doubt. It sold its factories to Andrew Regan in 1994 and in 1997 he made a hostile £1.2 billion bid to take it over. There were allegations of "carpet-bagging" — new members who joined to make money from the sale — and fraud and commercial leaks. After investigations by a private detective and a subsequent criminal court case, Regan's bid was rejected and two senior CWS executives were dismissed and imprisoned for fraud. Regan was cleared of all charges. The episode proved to be a catalyst for rejuvenation and, after years of aborted discussions, the CWS merged with its affiliate Co-operative Retail Services (CRS) in 2000. As a part of this merger, new governance arrangements were designed with the 'independent societies' becoming part owners of the new Group and their representatives were elected to the group's national board. The failed take-over and the uncertainty in the co-operative sector that it had created led to the 2001 Co-operative Commission report, chaired by John Monks, which made major recommendations for the co-operative movement, including the organisation and marketing of the retail societies. Unlike Gaitskell Commission's 1958 report the recommendations of the report, notably the major update to "The Co-operative brand" and the re-launch of the membership dividend scheme, were largely adopted by the co-operative movement including The Co-operative Group. These changes to the business are largely credited with the successes in profitability and the achievement in social goals which improved in the years after the Co-operative Commission report.
Expansion after 2000
At the start of 2007, the group began discussions with United Co-operatives, the UK's second-largest co-operative, about a merger of the societies. On 16 February 2007, the boards announced they were to merge subject to members' approval, and on 28 July 2007 the new society came into being. At the same time, the group transferred the engagements of the Scottish Nith Valley Co-operative Society which, while trading profitably, was suffering a burden with its pension fund commitments.
In July 2008, the group announced a deal to purchase the Somerfield chain of 900 supermarkets and convenience stores. The sale was completed on 2 March 2009, costing £1.57 bn. Also in 2008, the group bought ten convenience stores trading as Bell's and Jackson's in the north and east of England from J Sainsbury. In autumn 2008, Lothian, Borders & Angus Co-operative Society members voted to transfer of engagements to the Co-operative Group. The transfer came into effect on 13 December 2008. The group announced in November 2008 that despite the economic downturn, half year profits had risen by 35.6 percent to £292.6 million for the six months to June 2008. In January 2009, Co-operative Financial Services and the Britannia Building Society announced their intention to merge, subject to regulatory and member approval. Members of the Plymouth & South West Co-operative Society joined the Co-operative Group in September 2009.
The group's reputation suffered a blow in 2007 after it was fined £250,000 because 38 of its 41 stores in Sussex failed fire safety inspections. It was fined £210,000 in 2010 after an investigation at one of its Southampton stores.
In May 2010, the Co-operative Group unveiled plans to build a new headquarters in Manchester. The initial phase of construction commenced on Miller Street near the existing estate where the Group has been based since 1863. The project, entitled NOMA, aims to reflect ethical values of the organisation in its design, construction and its relationship with employees and the surrounding communities. The centrepiece of the initial development is One Angel Square, one of the largest in Europe to have a BREEAM outstanding distinction as a result of its high sustainable energy credentials. Occupation of the new building began in early 2013.
2013 financial crisis
In May 2013, after recognising inadequate capital levels in its banking group, Euan Sutherland took over from Peter Marks as chief executive. That month Moody's downgraded the bank's credit rating by six notches to junk status (Ba3) and the bank's chief executive Barry Tootell resigned. The difficulties stem largely from the commercial loans of the Britannia Building Society, acquired in the 2009 merger. The Co-operative Insurance sold its life insurance and pensions business to Royal London releasing about £200m in capital, and planned to dispose of its general insurance business. Further financial restructuring was expected.
On 5 June 2013 Richard Pennycook, former finance director of Morrisons, was named Co-operative Group's finance director, and Richard Pym, former chief executive of Alliance & Leicester, as chair of the Co-operative Banking Group and the Co-operative Bank. The group lost £2.5 billion in 2013, and debt stood at £1.4 billion at the end of 2013.
In May 2014 a special members meeting agreed to restructure the way members elected the board, largely along the lines suggested in a governance report by Lord Myners. The Myners review was very critical of the co-operative movement's (and especially the Group's) lack of response to the 1958 commission report and for the failure of the Group's governance since the merger of CWS and CRS in 2000. The review also underlined the requirement to focus on making and retaining annual profits which can be invested in the long-term future of the business and to avoid the risks of over-expansion and 'empire-building' as had nearly destroyed the business in 2013.
During 2014 the group sold a series of businesses to reduce debt. The Co-operative Pharmacy was sold for £620 million to the Bestway Group, Co-operative Farms was sold for £249 million to the Wellcome Trust, and Sunwin (the group's cash transportation business) was sold for £41.5 million to Cardtronics.
In April 2015 The Co-operative Group announced that it had reduced its debt levels by approximately 40% (to £808m) and had made a small profit during 2014 but will not pay a dividend to members until 2018.
The group has 85% of the co-operative retail business in the UK and substantial shares in wider markets, including travel and funerals.
The group's food retailing business, which trades using the ""The Co-operative Food"" brand, is the largest division of the group with over 2,700 stores of various sizes and the biggest geographical spread of any retailer. The stores are mainly in the convenience and medium-sized supermarket sector, with some larger superstores.
The Co-operative Group operates the UK's largest funeral director with over 800 funeral homes, many of which retain their private names whilst others operate using the The Co-operative Funeralcare brand.
The society owns The Co-operative Insurance.
The Co-operative Legal Services is a national legal services provider. Services cover writing wills, probate, conveyancing, legal assistance with accidents and personal injuries and employment law. The group announced the formation of this division, based in Bristol, in April 2006.
The Co-operative Electrical sells electrical products, from kitchenware and white goods to home entertainment. In 2015, the co-op became the first electrical retailer to sell its extended warranty insurance products at cost price.  In the previous decades extended warranties had gained a reputation for being poor value for money, but for being heavily promoted by retailers owing to their high profitability. The business is also unusual in providing a 60 minute delivery time slot, confirmed by SMS on the day of delivery.
The Co-operative Travel is a joint venture with Thomas Cook and the Central England Co-operative of which The Co-operative Group owns a 30% share. The venture operates 450 travel agencies and constitutes the largest travel agent network in the UK.  The merger was referred to the Office of Fair Trading as a result of monopoly concerns. Before the joint venture with Thomas Cook, the branch network was previously branded as either 'Travelcare' or 'Co-op Travel'. The business has direct sales channels through telephone, home workers, and the internet. In July 2009 the business launched its own tour operation as a joint venture with Cosmos Holidays.
Currently, the group owns a 20% stake in The Co-operative Bank, which was a wholly owned subsidiary until 2014 when the group was forced to sell the majority of its holding to investors to raise funds for the bank. The Co-operative Bank also includes the internet bank Smile, and the former building society Britannia.
The Group has interests in retail site management, property investment and land development which are managed through its business, The Co-operative Estates. The Co-operative Estates is involved in the £800m 20 acre NOMA development in Manchester and operates a large-scale energy buying group for co-operatives.
Syncro was the rebranded engineering and building services business of the Co-operative Group, based in Salford. Syncro was sold in 2006.
Associated Co-operative Creameries (ACC) was the group's milk processing and distribution division. ACC handled logistics of the retail business but this responsibility was transferred to Co-operative Retail Logistics before it was sold to Dairy Farmers of Britain, a farmers co-operative, on 10 August 2004.
The group withdrew from the department store business after many years of increasing losses, with several stores being acquired by the Anglia Regional Co-operative Society, and the remainder closed. Many shops had been in poor locations and had suffered from under-investment. Initially, two stores were to be retained in Perth and Tunbridge Wells to trial of a new style of department store but were closed in 2006.
The Co-operative Motor Group ceased trading following the disposal of Albert Farnell and its last remaining dealerships in 2013. However, Central England Co-operative continues to operate dealerships as The Co-operative Motor Group.
Shoefayre, established in 1959, as Society Shoes was co-owned by several co-operative societies and became owned and managed by the Co-operative Group. In 2006, it reported operating losses of £6 million and in 2007 was sold to Shoe Zone.
The Co-operative Pharmacy was the third largest community pharmacy group in the UK with nearly 800 branches giving a nationwide presence. In 2014 it was sold for £620 million to the Bestway Group.
The Co-operative Farms manages land across Great Britain, producing soft fruit, potatoes, flour and cider, and is the largest lowland farmer in the UK. In 2014 it was sold for £249 million to the Wellcome Trust and now trades under its former Farmcare name.
The Co-operative Group is unusual as a co-op because it is owned by millions of UK consumers and also a number of other UK co-operatives, making the business a hybrid of a primary consumers' co-operative and a co-operative federation. This is largely a function of the group resulting from the merger between the Co-operative Wholesale Society (a co-operative federation) and the Co-operative Retail Services in 2000. Since 2015 The Co-operative Group has operated a 'one member one vote' system whereby any of the co-op's millions of members can vote to elect board members, to guide strategic decisions and their own propose their own motions for voting on.
The current governance structure of the business was established in 2014 and comprises an Executive Management Team, a Group Board and a Members Council. The Executive Management Team are the highest level of management in the business and are responsible for its day-to-day operations. The Group Board is a team of between seven and twelve people who are responsible for overseeing the strategy of the business and for holding the Executive Management Team to account. The Group Board is made up of: a group chair; either one or two executive directors appointed from the Executive Management Team; up to five Independent Non-Executive Directors who are not affiliated with the group; and up to four 'Member Nominated Directors'. Member Nominated Directors are any people from within the membership group who nominate themselves and have the required level of commercial experience. The Members Council is a group of up to 100 people who hold the Group Board to account with regards to the group's Purpose, Values and Principles. Members of the co-op, its employees and representatives of the 'independent societies' make up the Members Council.
Between the creation of The Co-operative Group in 2000 and the major governance changes of 2014-2015, the Group had a complex governance arrangement which consisted of the business executive, the Group Board of 20 people, a series of regional boards and numerous area committees. The Group Board was made up of 15 'lay' member directors elected from Regional Boards, another five which came from the 'independent societies' and, though there was the option to appoint up to three 'independent professional non-executive directors (IPNEDs) to the Group Board at any one time, only one was every appointed. All Group Board members (excluding IPNEDs) were appointed by competitive regional election - in contrast, most building societies and PLCs have a nominations committee which recommends potential board for election members based on a number of strict criteria. A series of Regional Boards, consisting of 12-15 people elected from Area Committees, were responsible for holding the Group Board and for block-voting at the Annual General Meeting. There were 48 Area Committees which were responsible for representing member interests and promoting membership within their constituency. Out of the millions of members that the Group had, only Area Committee members are able to vote in the elections for the Regional Committees and 'lay' director seats on the Group Board and the votes were weighted depending on the GBP value of sales within individual areas.
One of the justifications for this complex governance arrangement was that it took a number of years to reach Regional Board level, which helped to minimise the influence of single-issue campaigners and carpet-baggers. In the 1990s it was these issues, notably the failed take-over by Andrew Regan in 1997, which caused significant problems for the, then, CRS and CWS. The Myners Review noted that "the primary source of power within the Group [was] firmly entrenched at the level of the Regional Boards" and the review concluded that it was this 'labyrinthine' structure, where Group Board members need to remain elected to Area Committees and Regional Boards, which led to the governance problems at The Group and it's Financial Crisis of 2013.
Marketing and brands
CWS became Co-operative Group (CWS) Limited on merger with CRS in 2001. CWS Retail was formed in 1933 and demerged in 1957 as CRS, with the purpose of opening shops in co-operative deserts and to take over failing retail societies. The combined Group merged with United Co-operatives, based in Yorkshire and North West England, in 2007, reinforcing its position as the largest consumer co-operative in the world. At this time the current name, Co-operative Group Limited, was adopted.
Following the mergers of the 90s and 00s, the modern Co-operative Group was formed of a large range of different independent societies with separate brand identities which led to a lack of consistency and gave an incoherent message to consumers. The four-leaf clover "Co-op" brand, introduced in 1967 and adjusted in 1993, was seen by many in the co-operative movement as a hindrance to public perception of the movement. This problem was affecting the whole co-operative sector in the UK and following the report from the Co-operative Commission in 2001,  The Co-operative Group was heavily involved with the process of developing a single updated version of The Co-operative brand for use by many consumers' co-operatives in the UK.
In 2007, the group began a re-brand of its estate to this new unified identity with its other business names, including Travelcare and Funeralcare, phased out in favour of the newThe Co-operative business names. With more than 4,000 stores and branches to convert to the new identity the process has been cited as the "largest rebranding exercise in UK corporate history." The Co-operative Group launched its largest television advertising campaign in 2009. The two and a half minute advertisement aired for the first time during Coronation Street on ITV. The advertisement, created by McCann Erickson, features the Bob Dylan track "Blowin' in the Wind", a rare occasion that he has allowed his music to be used for commercial purposes.
Dividend and membership scheme
The idea of co-operative trading revolutionised food retailing with the dividend, often known as "divi", and the "divi number" became a part of British life. The way in which co-operative retail societies are run for the benefit, and on behalf of their members sets them apart from their modern-day competitors. The dividend is a financial reward to members based on each member's level of trade with the society. The distribution of profits on the basis of turnover rather than capital invested is a fundamental difference between a co-operative and most private sector enterprises.
Historically, members' sales would be recorded in ledgers in society's stores and at the end of the collection period a proportional payment would be made to the member. As the societies grew, and the number of members increased, the method of using ledgers became cumbersome. As a solution, some societies, including Co-operative Retail Services, issued stamps to members for qualifying transactions. Members collected stamps on a savings card and, when the card was complete, would use it as payment for goods or deposit into their share account.
By the late 20th century the group's predecessors and then the Co-operative Group no longer paid true dividend as it had become a drain on limited resources, although several independent societies (such as Anglia Regional) continued to do so. In the mid-1990s a loyalty card scheme, in the style of the Tesco Clubcard, was introduced which used the dividend brand. These loyalty cards were inspired by the co-operative dividend but were little more than marketing exercises and a way to gather useful customer information. Co-operative customers, not just members, could sign up and receive a swipe card to record purchases with vouchers sent out twice a year which could be exchanged for cash or goods.
In September 2006 the Co-operative Group relaunched "true" dividend whereby a proportion of the profits of the Co-operative Group is returned to members. To emphasise the change, the scheme is now called the Co-operative Membership and members earn a "share of the profits". New members are recruited by allowing them to deduct the refundable subscription for a £1 share from their first dividend. Members can collect points to increase their share of the profits by using the services provided across the whole family of businesses. In 2008, the dividend almost doubled to £38 million, equivalent to 2.63p per point (one point being earned for each £1 food purchase), reflecting an 8% increase in underlying profit.
Group membership increased sharply in the first year after the relaunch, to 2.5 million with many more young people who have an affinity with the co-operative values and principles attracted to join.
In 2007, the Oxford-based Midcounties Co-operative joined the group's membership scheme allowing its members to earn dividend at Co-operative Group stores and vice versa. It was the first independent co-operative to adopt the new Co-operative branding. Since then, other independent co-operatives have joined the reciprocal membership dividend scheme, including Anglia Regional Co-operative Society (2008), Southern Co-operatives (2009), Chelmsford Star Co-operative Society (2009) and Midlands Co-operative (2010).
The Annual Report cites a number of factors in determining executive pay, including "attracting, retaining and motivating senior Executives of the appropriate calibre to further the success of the Group" and "ensuring that the interests of Executives are aligned with those of the Group and its members".
Former CEO Peter Marks was paid a basic salary of £1,014,000 in 2012, with a performance-related bonus of £103,000. The basic salaries of the thirteen executives adds up to £4,836,000, with their performance related bonuses adding up to £240,000.
In March 2014, "private and confidential" documents seen by The Observer newspaper detailed proposals put before The Co-operative's board to double the wage bill for senior management to £12 million a year, whereby the chief executive Euan Sutherland would earn a base salary of £1.5 million and a "retention bonus" of £1.5 million. The Observer also reported that Rebecca Skitt, the Co-op's chief human resources officer, who joined in February 2013, left 12 months later "with a proposed pay-off totalling more than £2m".
As a co-operative, the group places importance on ethical and transparent trading and reporting, and democratic accountability and participation. Retail trading areas are overseen by area committees of twelve members, which have annual elections and meetings for all members. The Area Committees also distribute, via the 'Community Fund', sums of up to £2000 per recipient, to various good causes. The Community Fund is made up of donations from members "share of the profits" which are put into this central pot. The Area Committees also elect members onto regional boards, there are 7 regional boards throughout the United Kingdom, the most northerly of these is the Scotland and Northern Ireland Regional Board. A national board includes directors elected from regional boards, plus representatives of other societies, the corporate members. Individual stores may have member forums. Unlike a pure consumer co-operative, voting rights are shared between the corporate members and the individual consumer members, as described in an annual report:
- Voting for corporate members is in proportion to trade with the society. Each individual member has one vote in the appropriate region of the society and each region has voting rights calculated on the same basis as a corporate member.
Purpose, values and principles
As a co-operative, The Group has a series of values and principles which guide how the business operate and these have remained relatively unchanged from the Rochdale Principles from which they originate. In 2014 The Group launched its revised 'group purpose' - a sentence designed to encapsulate what the business stands for and how it operates. The business's purpose is to:
"Championing a better way of doing business for you and your communities"
Here are The Group's underlying values and principles:
- Self-help – we help people to help themselves.
- Self-responsibility – we take responsibility for, and answer to our actions.
- Democracy – we give our members a say in the way we run our businesses.
- Equality – no matter how much money a member invests in their share account, they still have one vote.
- Equity – we carry out our business in a way that is fair and unbiased.
- Solidarity – we share interests and common purposes with our members and other co-operatives.
- Openness – nobody’s perfect, and we won’t hide it when we’re not
- Honesty – we are honest about what we do and the way we do it
- Social responsibility – we encourage people to take responsibility for their own community, and work together to improve it
- Caring for others – we regularly fund charities and local community groups from the profits of our businesses.
- Voluntary and open membership – membership is open to everyone
- Democratic member control – all members have an equal voice in making policies and electing representatives
- Member economic participation – all profits are controlled democratically by members and for their benefit
- Autonomy and independence – co-operatives are always independent, even when they enter into agreements with the Government and other organisations
- Education, training and information – co-operatives educate and develop their members as well as their staff
- Co-operation amongst co-operatives – co-operatives work together with other co‑operatives to strengthen the co-operative movement as a whole
- Concern for community – co-operatives also work to improve and develop the community, both locally and internationally.
Ethical trading and campaigning
As the UK's largest co-operative, the group plays a key part in the co-operative movement. In the 1840s the original co-op shops were set up to protect consumers from adulterated food and profiteering shopkeepers. Since then the co-operative movement has campaigned on a number of issues which they thought were key consumer interests. As a part of this, The Co-operative Group has long been campaigning for consumer rights legislation, researching into new food labelling initiatives, a major sponsor of new co-operative ventures, a notable donor to community initiatives, directly involved in the development of animal welfare standards and in championing Fairtrade in the UK.
The Co-operative Group was the first major UK retailer to stock Fairtrade products and was the first UK supermarket to sell fairtrade coffee (1992), bananas (2000), own-brand chocolate (2000), own-brand wine (2001), pineapples (2002), sugar (2005) and blueberries (2010). Since then, all own brand block chocolate (2002), coffee (2003), sugar (2008), bananas (2012), winter blueberries (2012) has been converted to fairtrade. The Co-operative Food is also the largest UK retailer of fairly traded wine and has the largest range of fairtrade products in the UK. The business has also been recognised for working with many co-operative and smallholder farmers, including providing investment funding to enable farming co-operatives who supply them to convert to fairtrade certification. In 2014 its fairtrade sales were £133m.
In 1994 The Co-operative Group became the first retailer to support the development of the then new RSPCA Freedom Food scheme with the aim of improving welfare standards for animals at all stages of the food chain. Their range of "freedom foods" certified products began from around this time.
Responsible fish sourcing
The Co-operative is one of the leading retailers of responsible fish in the UK having launched its Responsible Fish Sourcing Policy in 2008 after commissioning research in association with NGOs, academics and its suppliers. The Co-operative Food was commended by the Marine Conservation Society with a 'gold award' (2011) and a 'silver award' (2013) and, for its sourcing policy, The Co-operative was one of five organisations accredited with the 2010 Seafood Champion Award. 
Since 2011 all own-brand tuna has been caught using the pole and line method and does not use "Fish Aggregation Devices", a method with a significantly lower by-catch rate when compared with conventional tuna fishing. Since 2012, all farmed salmon has been certified by the RSPCA Freedom Foods accrediation scheme. In 2008 the co-op committed £200,000 to enable fisheries which would struggle to fund the certification process to become accredited by the Marine Stewardship Council.
Like many co-operatives, The Co-operative Group runs a community dividend scheme where each year a share of the businesses profits are re-invested into the communities where they trade. In 2002 the group gave 5.4 percent of their annual operative profits to communities as their community dividend for the year - a total figure of £10.7m.
The Co-operative Group, like most co-operatives, has supported the development of co-operative businesses in many sectors of the economy through its "Enterprise Hub". This has provided financial and business management help to small and start-up co-operatives, notably including FC United of Manchester, public service mutuals and a number of community pub ventures.
Climate change and "clean energy"
For a number of years the group campaigned on the issue of climate change under its banner of "The Clean Energy Revolution". There were three main aspects to this campaigning: (1) campaigning to increase awareness of climate change generally; (2) campaigning specifically around contentions associated with fossil fuel extraction; and (3) assisting the development of community renewable energy projects in the UK. Since the group's financial crisis of 2013, campaigning of this nature has largely been discontinued owing to financial constraints and because many of the public were not aware of what the co-op was doing. The business has, however, retained its focus on targets to reducing its own environmental impact.
As a part of its attempts to highlight the problem of climate change and specific issues relating to fossil fuel extraction, the group campaigned against tar sands oil extraction and fracking. To this end, The Co-operative Group part-funded the UK release of films including Chasing Ice, Gasland and H2Oil to raise awareness of the cause and, as a part of this, local members organised screenings in various communities. In 2011 the co-op wrote an open letter to the Defra which was signed by 190 large organisations and businesses calling upon the government to introduce mandatory carbon emissions reporting - a measure introduced for "businesses listed on the Main Market of the London Stock Exchange" in 2013.
The Toxic Fuels campaign was launched to combat the proposed expansion of the Canadian tar sands and proposals to begin fracking at sites in the UK. In 2008 they joined with the WWF-UK to publish a report which concluded that exploiting the Canadian tar sands to their full potential would be sufficient to bring about what they described as 'runaway climate change'. The Co-operative Bank were also vocal supporters of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation’s legal action against expanding oil extraction in Alberta, raising and donating over C$400,000 to support the BLCN legal case and focusing media attention in the UK - which led to a protest outside the Canadian Embassy in London. Colin Baines, Campaigns Manager at The Co-operative Group described the Beaver Lake Cree Nation legal action as "perhaps the best chance we have to stop tar sands expansion". In 2013, the court ruled in favour of the Beaver Lake Cree on appeal. The co-op were also involved in a shareholder resolutions at BP and Shell's 2010 AGM over this issue of tar sands extraction. A further report published with the WWF was critical of the prospect of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology being used to reduce the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to a level comparable to that of other methods of oil extraction. In the report they claimed that it was this belief in CCS that the oil industry were suing to justify their continued investment in the tar sands.
In 2011, The Co-operative Group called for a moratorium on fracking in the UK "at least until all the associated risks are fully exposed and understood". This position was based upon a report which the co-op commissioned and which was produced by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. The report concluded that the implementation of fracking in the UK posed three potential problems: (1) the likelihood of increased greenhouse gas emissions; (2) the potential for contamination of groundwater by heavy metals and chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process; and (3) the diversion of investment funds away from renewable energy research and development. Another co-op funded report concluded that the hypothesised emissions benefits from converting from coal to gas (from fracking) had been overstated. As a part of their attempts to increase public awareness of fracking in the UK, the co-op encouraged members to organise screenings of the film Gasland across the UK. This move received some criticism, notably from The Daily Telegraph due to perceptions of bias in the film Gasland.
The Co-operative Group has been a vocal supporter of community-owned renewable projects for a number of years as a way to combat climate change and fuel poverty. In 2012, the co-op launched its "Community Energy Manifesto" in association with Co-operatives UK which contained research into the possibility for significant growth in the UK's community renewable sector and it provided a number of case studies.  The Co-operative Group, notably through The Co-operative Bank and The Co-operative Enterprise Hub, has provided almost £100m in loans and grants to community-run energy efficiency and renewable energy generation co-operatives (including the Baywind Energy Co-operative and Torrs Hydro).  In 2014 the co-op launched its Community Energy Challenge which worked to encourage community energy schemes across the UK by actively supporting the groups for 18 months to raise awareness of community renewables and to create co-operatively and community-owned and schemes of over 500 kW in size that could be replicated across the country. However, since the problems at The Co-operative Bank the funding for new projects has largely been discontinued.
In 1984/5 research commissioned by the co-op showed that consumers had a preference for food labelling schemes which presented the content of fat, sugar and salt within a product as either "high", "medium" or "low". The co-op implemented this labelling system on own-brand products the same year. Further research in 1993 suggested that many consumers were confused by the nutritional labelling schemes used at the time. Both of these findings were supported by evidence gathered by the Food Standards Agency in 2002 and the Institute for Grocery Distribution proposed a new labelling system based upon the guideline daily amount principle.
As a consequence of this research, the co-op trialled a new greatly labelling extended format which went above the legal requirement for what should be included at the time (energy, protein, carbohydrate, of which sugars, fat, of which saturates, fibre and sodium) by including reference values for "guideline daily amounts", displaying whether each item constitutes 'high', 'medium' or 'low', providing information regarding recommended quantities of fruit and vegetables, using the word "calories" rather than "energy" and for displaying salt rather than sodium. Overall this new design was endorsed by 89% of those customers asked. As a part of this change, the co-op was also the first to introduce a graphic on the front of all own-brand products which highlighted the key nutritional information. The choice of the word "salt" over "sodium" was made because their research suggested that most consumers did not understand the difference between the two words and hence significantly underestimated the salt content of processed foods. Because of this, the co-op also called for the government to legislate so that salt rather than sodium should be displayed on the packing of products.
In 2013 The Co-operative Group published further research which they had conducted into front-of-pack labelling schemes and have modified their own front-of-pack labelling scheme to combine both the traffic light and guideline daily amount schemes into one simple system. In 2009 the co-op also introduced a 'green dot' scheme where additional specifically defined nutritional benefits in products (e.g. >6 g of fibre per 100 g) were included on the front of the pack. Since 2003, the co-op has been using a similar system to highlight products which count towards your '5 a day' fruit and veg - also listing the quantity of the product which required to reach the required serving size.
Since 1997 the group has not used "per-cent fat free" health claims. The co-op introduced calorie labelling for alcoholic drinks in 2002 and they also list the caffeine content of products which contain more than 1.6 mg in a single serving.
Starting in 1995 the co-op conducted a survey of the views of over 31,000 customers which suggested that customers wanted to make more informed buying decisions. Consequently, in 1997 the Co-operative Wholesale Society, forerunner to The Co-operative Group, published a report titled "The Lie of the Label" which presented a number of techniques which the co-op accused the food industry of using to mislead the consumer. These included: (1) hiding key information from consumers about a product (e.g. "products called 'mince' and 'onion', where the main ingredient was mechanically recovered chicken"); (2) using meaningless terms like 'wholesome' or 'natural' to make the product seem better; (3) using unrealistic photographs to make the product seem better on the label than what is achievable with what is actually sold; (4) using claims which make something normal seem special (e.g. dried pasta which is free from preservatives, a legal requirement); (5) framing claims to make a products characteristics seem better (e.g. 80% fat free crisps, when they would have been only 20% fat anyway); and (6) using very small fonts or text colours to make the label difficult to read. Since 1995, the co-op has clearly labelled the country of origin and percentage content of key ingredients, even when not required to by law.
The follow-up report, "The Lie of the Label II" (2002), specifically urged improvements in the legislation to provide consumers with better nutritional information on all foods (especially those foods which disproportionally contribute to consumers' fat, salt and sugar intake) and a new, clearer, format for presenting this information which is intuitive to consumers. The report also warned about the prevalence of advertising for sugary, fatty and/or salty foods which are aimed at children and how this will likely impact on the overall public heath of young people the UK.
The group- has campaigned against many misleading nutritional and 'health' claims which have appear on food packaging over the years. Those cited included a chocolate spread which is high in both fat and sugar, but which was marketed as "rich in calcium, magnesium and vitamins". Other such claims have included products which are advertised as "low cholesterol" when saturated fat is thought to be a larger control on blood cholesterol than direct cholesterol consumption. The Co-op operates a self imposed ban on such health claims. In 2003 the European Commission introduced legislation which defined many health claims such as "fat free" and "high fibre" to reduce the prevalence of meaningless claims on food packaging, a move welcomed by the co-op movement.
In 2001 the group became the first retailer to include Braille writing on its range of medicines and alcoholic drinks, a move which received three industry awards. In 2015 Braille can also be found on many products, including breakfast cereals.
The Co-operative Group became the first retailer to list the ingredients in its own-brand wines on the label in 1999 in a move that was illegal at the time. They justified their move by stating that they "believe it's in the consumer's interest" to know what is in their wine - as many ingredients, including charcoal and fish finings, have been used to give wines distinctive flavours. Ten years later the UK government pushed for labelling of this kind.
Israeli settlement boycott
At the end of April 2012 The Co-operative Group announced that it was "no longer engaging with any supplier of produce known to be sourcing from Israeli settlements." This involved the ending of contracts amounting to around £350,000 with a number of companies sourcing products from settlements built on Palestinian territories, but not Israeli companies in general.
Pesticides and toxic chemicals
The group's strict pesticide policy bans, restricts and monitors pesticide use at farms which supply its own brand products. The policy aims to minimise the use of chemicals, and the residues which remain on crops, whilst providing safe food but without notably increasing the cost of products. Their pesticide policy was launched with a report titled "Green and Pleasant Land" (2000) which formally banned over 20 pesticides which were still in use at the time on human health and environmental concerns and called upon the EU to legislate for a ban, a move which was endorsed by consumer and environmental groups. This move resulted from research that the business, then the CWS, conducted which demonstrated that two thirds of those asked were either concerned or very concerned about the health and environmental effects of pesticides and their residues on foods. The Co-op was the first supermarket to publicise all monitoring pesticide results on the business's website so that members could access the data. The Co-op's pesticide policy was applauded by the Pesticide Action Network in 2011 for their "pioneering" and "pro-active" approach and was noted as the (joint) best in the UK. Between 2009 and 2013 on average 42% of tested foods had no traces of any of the 449 monitored pesticides.
When determining which pesticides should be banned the toxicology of each substance, its potential for bioaccumulation and its persistency within the environment are all considered. Those chemicals which are restricted can only be used by growers and suppliers with specific written permission from The Co-operative Group which will only be granted if the grower or supplier has provided supporting evidence that no other alternative is available. In 2013 restricted pesticides were allowed in 123 cases. Research was conducted by The Co-op's farmcare business investigated biological and cultural controls which could be used to reduced the influence of pests and also investigated more benign chemical alternatives to those which were restricted - The Co-op could then suggest viable alternatives to restricted pesticides. For example, trials conducted on their UK farms investigated alternative methods of farm management which could reduce reliance on fungicides and pesticides by 40-50%. Following this, a series of Product Advisory Sheets were created to provide growers and suppliers with solutions for common pests which minimise as previously the most used source of information used by suppliers was that distributed by the agrochemical companies which sell pesticides, a perceived conflict of interest.
Lindane was banned from use on crops destined for Co-op own-brand products in 1999 after mounting health concerns, ten years before it was outlawed under the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants. The Co-operative Food became the first supermarket (2003) to ban a number of toxic chemicals (but which were still legal in the UK) from its own brand range of household products including washing up liquid and fabric conditioners. After recognising the potential for bioaccumulation of the toxic chemicals used in manufacturing and agriculture, the group joined with the WWF-UK on a campaign called DETOX which called for research into new safer chemicals which do no bioaccumulate.
The Co-operative became the first UK supermarket to ban the use of neonicotinoid pesticides in any of their own brand products or on their farms in 2009, after Germany, Italy and Slovenia banned the chemicals in 2008 in response to a sharp decline in their country's bee population. The business invested over £300,000 in funding peer-reviewed research on the impact of neonicotinoids on bee populations, campaigned for a ban of neonicotinoids and called on the UK government to support the proposed EU ban in 2013. They suggested that if they, then the UK's largest farmer, had banned neonicotinoids in their products and on their farms four years earlier then it would be possible for the ban to be successfully implemented without significant impact on European farming. As a part of their 'Plan Bee' policy they also funded the UK release of the documentary film Vanishing of the Bees to raise awareness of the issue, gave away 300,000 packets of wildflower seeds to members, offered discounted bee boxes for sale to members and under-used urban areas into colourful community meadows.
In 1994 The Co-operative Group began labelling own brands food which contained genetically modified (GM) ingredients and, five years later, they banned the use of GM ingredients in its own-brand products including GM animal feed. Since 2003 the co-op has banned the growing of GM crops on their own land (at the time they were the largest lowland UK farming business). The group also published a report on genetic modification which suggested that the majority of customers and members did not support GM crops. In 2013 the co-op dropped its objection to GM chicken and turkey feed and allowed its suppliers to use such feeds, owing to the increasing difficulty in sourcing guarenteed non-GM feeds.
Waste reduction and carrier bags
In 2002 the co-op launched its degradable carrier bags, however these were later withdrawn in favour of recyclable and reusable bags. However, with the increasing prevalence of council refuse collection services across the UK which compost food and garden waste, the co-op launched a new carrier bag in 2014 which could be used to by the customer to line their food waste bin once they had used the bag to get their shopping home.
Supply chain efficiency
The Co-operative Food Supply Chain Logistics business makes 35,000 deliveries per week and it has invested heavily in increasing the efficiency of its supply and distribution networks with the aims of reducing its costs and environmental impact. Between 2006 and 2013 the co-op reduced its fuel consumption by 29% and its emissions from supply chain activities by 31%. In 2013 the society closed six "legacy" distribution centres and opened two new sites which won awards for their low environmental impact. By switching much of its England to Scotland traffic from road to electric train in 2010 it has taken more than 10,000 tonnes of good from the road network and making a significant greenhouse gas emission savings. The business has also started collecting goods from its suppliers itself using lorries returning from store deliveries which would otherwise have travelled empty. By 2013 30% of all such collections from UK suppliers. The business became the first major business to trial an aerodynamic truck, 'the dolphin' in 2013 which was specifically designed to maximise fuel efficiency and reduce costs. The business has also expanded its road fleet into double-decker and 15 metre semi-trailers to reduce the number of lorry journeys required. 
The Co-operative Group, the largest business in the UK Cooperative movement, is a major affiliate and supporter of the Co-operative Party, which fields candidates in elections on joint tickets with the Labour Party as Labour and Co-operative Party. It is a substantial funder of the Co-operative Party. In addition to core aims of furthering cooperative values and mutualism in Parliament and on the national stage cooperative party members, activists and representatives (MPs, MSPs, AMs and councillors) campaign on wider social issues, including "The Feelings Mutual" campaign. The Co-operative Group facilitates, takes part in or owns services provided for other UK Consumer Cooperative Societies, supports community concerns and projects and runs ethical and social campaigns and advertising and events which correspond to the interests and values of the democratic society and the wider community.
Under new rules introduced in 2015, the annual general meeting voted to continue funding the Co-operative Party by a vote of 48,579 for, to 39,479 against.
List of corporate members
As of 2011, 22 independent consumer co-operatives are corporate members or customer owners, of the group. They invested share capital to found or join the group's wholesaler predecessors, such as the North of England Co-operative Wholesale Industrial and Provident Society and the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society. These co-operatives are represented alongside the regional boards at annual meetings and in the board of directors, and are entitled to dividends based on the amount of their purchases from the group.
(number of outlets)
|Allendale||allendalecoop.co.uk||Food retail (1)|
|Central England||centralengland.coop||1854 and 1876||329,000||Food (255), Funerals (118), Travel (21), Non-food (44), Petrol (25), Florist (10), Opticians (2) |
|Chelmsford Star||chelmsfordstar.coop||1867||52,937||Food (36), Non-food (2), Travel (2), Funerals (6)|
|Channel Islands||ci-cooperative.com||1919||Food (16), Non food (3: two 'Homemaker' stores and one 'Totalsport' store), Travel (2)|
|Clydebank||www.realco-op.co.uk||1881||Food (6), Non-food, Funerals, Post Offices|
|East of England||eastofengland.coop||1858||≈350,000||Food (133), Non-food (14), Travel (12), Funeral (30), Pharmacy (8), Optician (3), Motors (3), Jewellery (2), Education Centre (1)|
|Heart of England||heartofengland.coop||1832||179,657||Food (33), Non-food (21), Funeral (9), Travel (3), Post Offices (4)|
|Lincolnshire||lincolnshire.coop||1861||228,000 (2013)||Food (84), Bakery (1), Filling Stations (10), Pharmacies (48),
Post Offices (40), Travel (13), Funeral (17), Coffee Shops (2).
|Midcounties||midcounties.coop||Energy, Food (244) Funerals (78) Travel (58) Pharmacies (46) Childcare (47) Post Offices (74) and Co-operative Flexible Benefits |
|Radstock||www.radstockcoop.co.uk||1867||Food (14) Food and non-food (1) |
|Seaton Valley||www.seatonvalleyco-op.co.uk||Food (1)|
|Southern||southern.coop||Food (197) Funerals (16)|
|Tamworth||tamworth.coop||Food (14) Non-Food (1) Funerals (7)|
In 2002 the society gained Worldaware's 2002 Shell Award for Sustainable Development for its use of Fairtrade goods. and in 2007 it won a Queen's Award for Enterprise in the Sustainable Development category, in recognition of its business practices, including its pioneering stance on Fairtrade and the environment. In January 2010, the society appeared on the shortlist for the Transform Awards for rebranding and brand transformation in a number of categories  A 2011 Which? survey claimed that the Co-operative was the least favourite grocer with only 46% satisfaction among customers compared to Waitrose which achieved 85%.
The Co-operative Bank has consistently been one of the highest rated banks in the UK for customer satisfaction.
On 17 November 2013, Labour Party advisor and the former The Co-operative Bank Chairman, The Rev. Paul Flowers, was caught by the Mail on Sunday buying crack cocaine and methamphetamine. The former Labour Councillor served as Bank's Chairman from April 2010 until June 2013 and it was under his chairmanship that in March 2013 the bank reported losses of £600m. In May Moody's downgraded its credit rating by six notches to junk (Ba3) and the chief executive Barry Tootell resigned. Flowers has been suspended by both the Labour Party and the Methodist Church. On 19 November it was discovered that Flowers had previously resigned as a Labour Party Councillor for Bradford Council after "inappropriate" content was discovered on his computer.
- British co-operative movement
- The Co-operative brand
- Mondragón Cooperative Corporation, a Basque co-operative group
- "Our History". The Co-operative Group.
- The present Co-operative Group was founded as a wholesale co-operative in 1863, by a movement which had flourished after the success of the Rochdale Pioneers co-operative, founded in 1844. By 2007, the Rochdale Pioneers, who had been co-founders of the wholesale society, had fully merged with the group, and in 2008, an older co-operative, Lothian, Borders & Angus (1839 or earlier), also merged with the group.
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The Co-operative Group has confirmed for the first time that is trying to buy the Somerfield chain of food stores in a deal worth at least £1.5 billion.
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The card which has been on trial since May 1996 is unique in that it awards cash payments rather than credit points.[dead link]
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- As Derby Co-operative Provident Society, which became Midlands Co-operative Society in 1995
- As Peterborough Equitable Industrial Co-operative Society, which became Anglia Regional Co-operative Society in 1987
- 38 from Anglia Regional, 6 from Midlands Co-operative
- "Annual Report and Financial Statements" (PDF). Chelmsford Star Co-operative Society. 27 January 2007. p. 5. Retrieved 11 January 2008.[dead link]
- As Norwich Co-operative Society
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- As Lockhurst Lane Industrial Co-operative Society
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- "Stores". Radstock Co-op. Retrieved 20 February 2014.
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- Co-op bank boss Paul Flowers suspended in Labour drugs scandal Daily Mail, November 2013
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- Rupert Neate and Jill Treanor (10 May 2013). "Co-operative Bank rushes to reassure customers after downgrade". The Guardian.
- Co-op Group chairman Len Wardle resigns scandal Guardian, 19 November 2013
- Co-op Group chair quits over Paul Flowers drugs claims BBC, 19 November 2013
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to The Co-operative Group.|
- Official website
- Co-Operative Group Ethical Plan
- Co-operative Membership website
- Co-operative Group (CWS) Ltd. History
- The Origin of the "Wholesale", George Jacob Holyoake: 'The Rochdale Pioneers'
- The Kelly Review