On Saturday a massive 96% of the Co-op Group's annual general meeting voted in favour of a motion on responsible advertising.
The motion called on the Co-op Board to review existing advertising policy and “prepare an ethical policy that puts controls in place to ensure adverts do not appear in media that are incompatible with co-operative ethics, values and principles”.
The motion also noted “the concern from the United Nations and hate crime experts that some media outlets in the UK are fuelling and legitimising prejudice and an increase in hate crime”.
The member motion was proposed by Colin Baines, a former ethics adviser and campaigns manager for the Co-op Group, and a non-executive director of the Stop Funding Hate campaign, which is campaigning against companies that advertise in newspapers like The Daily Mail and The Sun which publish hateful and racist content.
The motion was also supported by 200 other Co-op members, including many Ethical Consumer readers who helped to promote the motion.
Ethical Consumer research
The motion came after our research estimated that the Co-op spent nearly half a million pounds advertising in The Sun over a six-week period in Oct/Nov 2017 alone.
Colin Baines said “Congratulations to the Co-op, which is once again putting its values into action and leading the way on social responsibility.”
“Stop Funding Hate is following in the footsteps of other successful consumer campaigns, from the Living Wage and Fairtrade to animal welfare standards.
All started as ethical consumer campaigns, quickly became corporate responsibility and responsible investment issues, and mainstreamed soon after. Ethical advertising is already well down that road.”
“Concern about the negative impacts of 'fake news' and 'hate news' on society is growing, and any business purporting to make a positive contribution to society must look at what its advertising procurement is funding.”
Co-op a leading ethical brand
Writing for on this website last week Alex Murray of Stop Funding Hate said, "The Co-op is one of the UK’s leading ethical brands. The company has a proud history of supporting ethical campaigns like Fair Trade, and the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.
By applying an ethical approach to its advertising, the Co-op will continue that proud tradition, and set an example for others to follow.
Every brand that commits to ethical advertising takes us one step closer to a media free from hatred and discrimination: If enough companies advertise ethically, then publishing stories which spread hate against minority groups will simply become unprofitable."
A YouGov poll commissioned by Stop Funding Hate in December 2017 found that 58% of the public believed ‘companies should withdraw their advertising if it is placed next to content they think is racist, sexist, homophobic or xenophobic.’ 21% disagreed. The same poll found that 50% believed The Sun newspaper is ‘a negative influence on society’. Just 5% saw the newspaper’s influence as positive.
More support for Stop Funding Hate
Stop Funding Hate recently received support from Jonathon Porritt, Founder Director of Forum for the Future, the UK’s largest sustainability charity:
I wholeheartedly support the Stop Funding Hate campaign. It’s right and proper to ask all companies intent on delivering a serious corporate sustainability strategy to recognise that where they put their advertising and marketing budgets should be an intrinsic part of that strategy. We have to persuade them to join up the dots here.
Conservative peer Baroness Warsi, also gave her support this week, recording a video for Stop Funding Hate saying "Campaigns like Stop Funding Hate are absolutely essential, the public has a right to vote with their feet and their money. As a Conservative, as someone who believes in the free market, I think it is a very centre right position to say the market should respond to this hatred by saying we find this unacceptable."
A history of hate
In 2016, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees reviewed media outlets across five European countries and concluded that, of all the publications surveyed, the Sun and Daily Mail exhibited a “hostility” to refugees and migrants that was “unique”.
The Sun and Daily Mail were again singled out when accused of “fuelling prejudice” in a 2016 report by the Council of Europe on hate speech and rising racist violence.
The report highlighted discriminatory coverage towards Muslims, migrants, travellers and the LGBT community, and warned that “fuelling prejudice against Muslims shows a reckless disregard, not only for the dignity of the great majority of Muslims in the United Kingdom, but also for their safety.”
In 2015, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, urged the UK to examine incitement to hatred in the UK media, naming The Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Express. “Asylum seekers and migrants have, day after day, for years on end, been linked to rape, murder, diseases such as HIV and TB, theft, and almost every conceivable crime and misdemeanour imaginable in front-page articles and two-page spreads, in cartoons, editorials, even on the sports pages of almost all the UK’s national tabloid newspapers…
Many of these stories have been grossly distorted and some have been outright fabrications. Elsewhere in Europe, as well as in other countries, there has been a similar process of demonization taking place, but usually led by extremist political parties or demagogues rather than extremist media.”
Change in policy
Lego, Paperchase, the Body Shop, JOY, the Phone Co-op, Ecotricity, Good Energy and more have already moved to exclude certain publications from advertising procurement, citing incompatibility with their company or brand values.