The Chair of The Co-operative Group discusses its plans to make ethical leadership an expectation, not an aspiration.
Against the backdrop of a world left financially and spiritually poorer by the effects of the credit crisis, the co-operative business model is viewed as increasingly relevant, not least because it takes an alternative route to those businesses motivated purely by profit.
The Co-operative Group has been at the forefront of this renaissance in the UK co-operative movement because we have been able to marry commercial success with an unswerving commitment to corporate leadership in business ethics and sustainability. During 2011, we launched our Ethical Plan, which was seen by many leading commentators as the UK’s most radical ever. It is our intention that this plan be refreshed every year in consultation with our democratically elected members, to whom The Co-operative’s ethical leadership is not an aspiration but an expectation.
The plan sets ambitious goals within important areas of national and international concern for our members and provides the basis for a new generation of co-operative thinking and action.
We are investing £17 million over three years in support of co-operatives, which includes the provision of financial and practical support for start-up co-operatives here in the UK. Last year, we helped to create a new co-operative a day. This is on top of our community initiatives – of which there is a new one every hour of every day!
Our support and innovation isn’t restricted to the UK. This is the United Nations International Year of Co-operatives, and to mark this we have launched a new type of international investment scheme, in conjunction with the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA). This scheme will provide much needed finance to third-world co-operatives for capital and infrastructure projects. Add this to our work on micro-finance and our second-to-none commitment to Fairtrade, and I think it is fair to say that we really are setting the standard on tackling global poverty.
The Co-operative Group isn’t immune from the major economic challenges, which have resulted from the deepest and most prolonged recession in living memory. Last year was a challenging one for The Group, and I firmly expect this year to be no different. We have, however, a business model which is centred around delivering benefits for our stakeholders in a sustainable and long-term manner, and long may this continue.
Len Wardle is Chair, The Co-operative Group.