The Co-operative Group is the UK’s largest mutual business, owned by more than eight million members. It is the UK’s fifth biggest food retailer operating across the country with almost 2,800 local, convenience and medium-sized stores.
Amongst its other wholly-owned businesses are the UK’s number one funeral services provider, a major general insurer and a developing legal services business.
The Group also has a minority shareholding in The Co-operative Bank and a joint-venture travel business with Thomas Cook.
As well as having clear financial and operational objectives, the Group, which operates 3,500 outlets and employs approaching 70,000 people, is a recognised leader for its social goals and community-led programmes.
13 of the Rochdale Pioneers photographed in 1865
The Co-operative Group has its origins in Rochdale, Lancashire. The Rochdale Pioneers Society was famously established in 1844 based upon the notion of ethical trading and belief that the profits of the business should be shared amongst members according to their purchases.
The Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) was formed in 1873 by independent co-op societies, to provide Co-op produced products to sell in hundreds of Co-op stores that had opened based on the Rochdale model of ownership and control.
By 1900 there were over 1,400 separate independent co-operative businesses in the UK, all members of a wider Co-operative Movement. During the 1900s, many of these independent societies began to merge. One of the most significant in recent times was in 2000, when The Co-operative Group was formed following the merger of the Co-operative Wholesale Society and Co-operative Retail Services. This was followed in 2007 by the merger of United Co-operatives with The Co-operative Group.
Member owned model
Membership lies at the heart of our business. We are owned by our members and manage our business for their benefit in accordance with Co-op Values and Principles.
Along with all co-operative societies, The Co-operative Group is democratically controlled by its members. However we differ from most other UK consumer co-operatives in that we have both independent society members and individual members.
Anyone can become a member of the Group by subscribing for a £1 share. The Co-operative Group is jointly owned by millions of individual members and Independent Co-operative societies. We listen to member opinions and integrate these into our business activities and our social and campaigning agenda.
The equitable nature of The Co-operative Group is exemplified through the opportunity for each and every member to get involved in running the business. In addition to having the right to vote on a one member, one vote basis, each member has the right to stand for election on either the Group Board or Council.
The Co-operative Movement was founded to serve a social purpose, as well as a commercial one. We continue to be guided by the long-established co-operative values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity, alongside our commitment to ecological sustainability and social responsibility, as set out in our Sustainable Development Policy.
We have a long history of campaigning on issues that are relevant to our Members. Today, ‘championing’ is a core element of our Purpose, and in June 2015, we announced our new Charity Partnership with the British Red Cross to tackle loneliness in communities across the UK.
Read about our sustainability commitments and performance in our Sustainability Report.
As a purpose-led business, our stakeholders are central to all that we do and are key to our success. In addition to our Members, our stakeholders, include colleagues, customers, suppliers and the wider co-operative movement. Read about how we engage with, and deliver value for these groups in our Sustainability Report.
Furthermore, concern for community is enshrined in our co-operative principles. We have a presence in every UK postal area, and through our community investment and campaigning we aim to support and strengthen the communities in which we trade, in line with our Group Purpose.
Involvement with the wider Co-operative Movement
Within the UK, Co-operatives UK is the over-arching co-operative national trade body. The Co-operative Group accounts for around 80% of the total Co-operative Movement in the UK and as such we play a leading role within Co-operatives UK.
Co-operation is not limited to the UK. The United Nations designated 2012 its International Year of Co-operatives. The Co-operative Group played an integral role in co-hosting a momentous event in Manchester which was the global culmination of the International Year.