Skip to main content

Another way of doing business: Employee ownership at Riverford Organic Farm.

It has been one year since Riverford became employee-owned, and we took a trip down to their farm near Totnes in Devon to discuss how employee ownership has impacted the business and why we need more businesses to adopt this model.

We were joined on a panel by founder Guy Singh-Watson, as well as Dave Sproxton, founder of Aardman – the animation house responsible for Wallace and Gromit, which has also recently become employee-owned, and Jessica Prendergrast, director of community-owned development fund Onion Collective. 

Becoming employee-owned

Guy Singh-Watson explained that three-quarters of the business is owned by an Employee Trust to the equal benefit of all employees. He owns the remaining quarter. 

When asked why he had chosen to take the company down this route, Singh-Watson highlighted how employee ownership helps devolve power away from just a few people, stating that “to concentrate control in the boardroom is dangerous”.

Dave Sproxton added that employee ownership has improved productivity at Aardman, stating “The real value has been getting those minds more fully engaged with the company”.

"This is in keeping with research done on employee-owned business which found that operating under an employee-owned structure can often improve business performance".


A real alternative to the capitalist system

Employee ownership can be seen to have impacts beyond the individual businesses operating under it. If more businesses start using this model it can offer some real alternatives to the inequalities embedded in the current capitalist system. 

“We can’t rely on the people with the capital, we can rely on each other” Dave Sproxton, Aardman

Guy stated “The model is broken and we desperately need something else” adding “The main problem with capitalism is its short-termism...If the whole reason to start a business is to sell it to shareholders it becomes really toxic...we need to give people starting businesses the space to do something different...its almost about spirituality, the understanding that there is something more to life”.


Worker-owned in the UK

According to the Employee Ownership Association (EOA), there are around 370 employee-owned businesses in the UK with the top 50 of these having a combined annual turnover of around £19billion and employing a total of 166,000 people. The top 50 list now includes Riverford Organic Farmers.

The John Lewis Partnership is one of the most famous employee-owned business in the UK, as well as the largest and has run under the model for over 100 years. Other examples of worker-owned businesses in the UK include Wilkins & Sons, Richer Sounds, Suma and Mooncup.

Cooperatives UK and the EOA hope to see 1million employee worker/owners by 2030 with their #1MillionOwners campaign.

“The need has never been greater for an alternative way of doing business” - Guy Singh-Watson

Guy Singh-Watson was at the Ethical Consumer Conference 2019.

Free Issue

Sign up now to our email newsletter for a free digital copy of Ethical Consumer magazine.

Sign up now for our email newsletter