By Ben Sillitoe
A new phase of corporate social responsibility (CSR) begins today at The Co-operative Group, affecting all areas of the organisation.
With the aim of setting a new benchmark for CSR practices, the programme will look to swell group membership more than threefold by 2020 and bring a wide range of benefits to consumers across the UK.
Dubbed the Ethical Operating Plan, some 47 key targets have been established that Co-op members believe will tackle global poverty, protect the environment and improve society.
From a retail perspective, Co-op Food will ensure Healthier Choice products are no more expensive than standard equivalent goods and its Simply Value range will be at least as nutritional as similar produce.
Speaking last night at the launch of the new scheme at The Horticultural Halls in central London, group CEO Peter Marks said the Co-op was making “courageous” decisions that he hopes other businesses will follow.
He explained that the CSR plan will be intertwined with the company’s traditional three-year business schedule and will influence all decisions the group makes.
“CSR has never been so important as it is today,” Marks told members of the audience.
“We’re establishing a lead in this area and we want others to follow - we can’t do this alone.”
Marks added that part of the plan involves encouraging consumers to want to shop for sustainable and ethical products, which is one reason why the Fairtrade range will continue to be promoted and developed as a core element of the Co-op business.
Executive Director of the Fairtrade Foundation Harriet Lamb, another keynote speaker last night, explained that the group expects 90 per cent of Co-op’s primary commodities to be Fairtrade-certified by 2013.
As one new era begins at Co-op another reaches its end, however, as the work to align Somerfield with the Co-op is now finalised.
Commercial Director for Co-op Food Sean Toal told Retail Gazette that the group’s senior management now consider Somerfield fully integrated into the Co-op, although there are a few final phases to complete.
Having acquired the supermarket chain for £1.57 billion in 2008, Co-op has grown to become the fifth largest grocer in the UK.
Toal said: “It’s been a tough three years, but we have learnt a lot from the Somerfield business - it has also helped increase the pace at Co-op.
“The acquisition has taken us from being a convenience retailer into a completely different sphere.”