Our commitment remains to be the most ethical retailer and financial services provider on the UK
Despite a challenging economic backdrop, there is no let up in our pursuit of sustainability. Our co-operative model is structured to put the interests of member-customers at the heart of our business strategy and our members don’t just want us to be sustainability leaders, they expect it.
No business has been left immune from the squeeze on individual finances, rising unemployment, and people’s worries over job security; indeed, we saw a downturn in sales and profits in 2011 compared to the exceptional performance we had achieved in 2010.
Despite this, we have continued to invest heavily in the business and remain fundamentally optimistic about the future. Our strategy remains one of pursuing growth, especially in our core Food and Banking businesses, and also Legal Services.
Much of our planning for the future now comes under the umbrella of our Unity programme. This began in earnest at the start of 2011 as we worked to bring together many of our head office functions and management structures to ensure we have a truly joined-up approach.
But Unity is about far more than just restructuring. It’s about maximising the potential of The Co‑operative brand across our family of businesses. It’s about giving our members and customers more reasons to trade with us.
A sustainable commitment
Our members, rather than shareholders own the business and maintain its governance. This enables us to make decisions for the long term, rather than being knocked off course by the short‑term priorities of investors. It ensures that we not only remain true to our ethical commitments and social goals as we work our way through this recession, but has seen us increase our commitment.
In 2011 we invited our customers (and potential customers) to ‘Join the Revolution’.
We made it clear that we were proud of our radical heritage. Communities need our support. Poverty needs addressing at home and abroad. Climate change must be tackled. Young people need to be inspired. And co-operation itself must have investment if it is to grow and flourish.
This Report sets out how we have performed in meeting the targets we set for ourselves within our new Ethical Plan. We have now set revised targets – challenging but realistic – for the next three years. Our commitment remains to be the most ethical retailer and financial services provider on the UK high street.
Leading the way
The Co-operative Movement has a very long tradition of standing up for trade justice. Often we have been ‘ahead of the curve’ leading, rather than following, public opinion. Where we have seen injustice and believed our actions could support a peaceful resolution, co‑operative members down the years have felt compelled to play their part.
This is reflected, more recently, in our long-standing support for the people of Burma, where we are now witnessing the emergence of a sustainable, political solution. And it is reflected in our decision not to trade with illegal settlements: be it in the Western Sahara or the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
2012 is the United Nations International Year of Co‑operatives and we have launched a raft of important initiatives to ensure the year leaves long-term legacies to secure the future of co-operation.
One of those we can be most proud of is the Global Co‑operative Development Fund, in co-operation with the International Co-operative Alliance. We have once again taken a leadership position in promoting Co-operation worldwide, providing loans and start-up money to get initiatives off the ground that will encourage self-help, responsibility and the fostering of strong communities for decades ahead.
Although we have much to celebrate in 2011, we must recognise that 2012 will be another challenging year for us commercially.
However, sometimes it is good to step back from our immediate concerns and remind ourselves of just how much we have achieved in recent years.
We have a brand that has been radically rejuvenated. We have a membership that has grown substantially. Our sales and profits are double what they were in 2007. Our commitment to social change is greater than ever. That’s a record we can be very proud of!
Len Wardle, Chair
The Co-operative Group