In December 2019 Ethical Consumer viewed a questionnaire returned, and several documents on the company's website, including the company's 2018 'Co-op Way' report and a document called: 'The Co-op’s Sound Sourcing Code of Conduct', dated to December 2017.

Supply chain policy (good)
A document called: 'SOUND SOURCING CRITERIA - The ETI Base Code' was downloaded from the Co-op's website. The document stated, "The Co-operative Group Limited requires that suppliers, agents and anybody involved in the manufacture of goods or the provision of services to its businesses, shall meet all the legislation applicable to those activities." The document included adeqaute provisions on the following ILO conventions: forced labour, child labour, freedom of association and non-discrimination. The company also had adequate clauses on payment of living wages as it stated, "In any event wages should always be enough to meet basic needs and to provide some discretionary income."

Regarding working hours, it stated: 'Working hours may exceed 60 hours in any seven day period only in exceptional circumstances where all of the following are met:
• this is allowed by national law;
• this is allowed by a collective agreement freely negotiated with a workers’
organisation representing a significant portion of the workforce;
• appropriate safeguards are taken to protect the workers’ health and
safety; and
• the employer can demonstrate that exceptional circumstances apply such as
unexpected production peaks, accidents or emergencies.'
Usually Ethical Consumer expects working weeks over 60 hours to be prohibited under any circumstances, but since the Ethical Trade Initiative amended its provision on working hours to allow exceptional circumstances, Ethical Consumer allows an equivalent exception for ETI members.

The Co-op was considered to have a good supply chain policy.

Stakeholder engagement (rudimentary)
The Co-op stated that it was a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) which is a multi-stakeholder initiative. The company also stocked a wide range of Fairtrade products under its own brand which verified labour standards within its supply chain. Co-op was found to have a free, anonymous and confidential whistle-bowing helpline for its own workers; however, no equivalent for those in its supply chain could be found.

The Co-op was a founder member of Stronger Together UK, South Africa and Spain, a retailer alliance providing training and resources to tackle modern slavery in supply chains. It was also a member of FNET, the Food Network for Ethical Trade, which aims to improve human rights in global food supply chains through establishing a common approach to managing ethical trade.

Co-op was considered to have a rudimentary approach to stakeholder engagement.

Auditing and Reporting (reasonable)
Ethical Consumer viewed the Co-op's 2018 'Co-op Way' report, which monitored the company's CSR activities. It stated, "We identify suppliers for audit using a risk-based approach determined by supplier responses to Sedex self-assessment questionnaires, worker profiles, use of temporary workers, country of origin and industry sector, and external intelligence from experts, Trade Unions and NGOs."

As a condition of trade, it required all own-brand suppliers to join the Suppliers Ethical Data Exchange (Sedex) a web-based database where suppliers post labour standards information, including self-assessments and site audit reports, and based on this information with a number of other risk factors, sites are assigned as high, medium or low risk. Tier 1 High risk sites must undergo an ethical audit at least every 2 years, with some sites undergoing annual audits where serious issues are raised. Medium and low risk sites may be brought into an audit cycle pending internal quarterly desktop reviews, which take account of a number of ethical risk and commercial factors. Approved third-party bodies carry out all audits, on a semi-announced basis over a 3 week window. Auditors then upload audit reports to Sedex for Co-op to review, to ensure credibility and consistency of practice.
It also included Tier 2 sites within high risk supply chains in scope of its monitoring programme. This includes sites in protein, produce and some non-food supply chains.

A breakdown of audit results was given, however this was not considered adequate as it was not broken down per issue per country / suppliers or factory level.

The Co-op Way 2018 stated "100% of all Tier 1 sites had completed a self-assessment questionnaire at the end of 2018 (2017: 100%), and 100% of high risk Tier 1 sites had been audited at the end of 2018 (2017: 98%)." This showed commitment to auditing most of its supply chain, including some tier 2 suppliers.
In the questionnaire, the company stated: "We take a collaborative approach to remediation and will work with the supplier to provide the support they need to resolve the issue. This approach allows our suppliers to be transparent and open with us if they do face challenges. Any other issues found are monitored and must be corrected with evidence submitted on Sedex within 6 months of the audit." This was regarded as a staged plan in relation to issues of non-compliance.

Full 2019 data will be released in April 2020.

The 'Co-op Way' report stated that the company would be sharing a list of its Tier 1 suppliers on its website, by mid-2019. This could not be found in December 2019.

The Co-op was considered to have a reasonable approach to auditing and reporting. The company showed committment to auditing its whole supply chain, was considered to have a schedule of auditing for suppliers and a plan for staged remediation, but did not give full disclosure of audit results or provide details of who paid for the audits.

Difficult issues (reasonable)
In the questionnaire the company stated: "We have a long history of strong relationships with our suppliers – 75% of our suppliers have traded with us for over five years."
In the 2018 report the company stated: "We also reached over 200 suppliers through best practice training webinars and workshops (including on employee engagement, responsible recruitment and handling of forced labour)."
On the 'Our Human Rights Focus' page of the website the company also discusses its various training programmes aimed at improving issues in its supply chain.
It was a member of the ETI working group on Thai seafood.

The Co-op had not addressed audit fraud and unannounced audits, outlined any measures taken to address the issue of living wages, particularly among outworkers, and illegal freedom of association.
It was considered to have a reasonable approach to difficult issues overall.

Overall the Co-op received a best Ethical Consumer rating for its Supply Chain Management.


Co-op Way (2018)

In January 2020 Ethical Consumer viewed the Co-operative Group's website and found on its Sales Restricted Prodcts page ( that the Co-operative Group retails tobacco products. As a result the Co-operative lost a whole mark under Irresponsible Marketing.

Reference: (15 January 2020)

In January 2020 Ethical Consumer viewed a page entitled 'Trading with illegal settlements or occupied territories' on the Co-operative website,

This stated: “Since 2009, The Co-operative Group has operated a Human Rights and Trade Policy, which sets out the exceptional circumstances under which we will withdraw trade from a state, area or settlement. One such circumstance is where there is a broad international consensus that the status of a designated region or state is illegal. While there are many disputed territories throughout the world, there are currently only two examples of such illegal areas: the Israeli settlements in the Palestinian Occupied Territories and the Moroccan settlements in Western Sahara. On this basis, we do not source any produce or own-brand products from the Israeli settlements. In April 2012, our Board determined that, going forward, we will additionally no longer engage with any supplier of produce known to be sourcing from the Israeli settlements. We can categorically state that this position does not constitute a boycott of Israeli businesses. We remain committed to sourcing produce from and trading with Israeli suppliers that do not source from the settlements."

This was considered to be a positive policy addressing a Human Rights issue.

Reference: (26 April 2018)

In January 2019 Ethical Consumer viewed an article on the Guardian website titled: 'Former Co-op executive wins her equal pay and unfair dismissal claims', and dated November 2018.

It reported that, "Sam Walker, a company director in charge of HR, argued that she was dismissed after raising issues about her own pay and warning leading figures in the company that it could be paying men and women at a different rate for the same roles.

The tribunal did not agree with Walker’s claim that her sacking was a result of discrimination, but ruled that the Co-op “directly discriminated against the claimant on the ground of sex”, after deeming her work only 'partially achieved' when she had not been given an adequate year-end appraisal. The tribunal heard she was paid less than other board members in 2014 and told this was because she was newly promoted, but an independent assessment of executive roles by the Hay Group in January 2015 rated her role at least as high or higher than other male executives.

The Co-operative Group will now face a legal bill, after an employment tribunal found in Walker’s favour.

The Co-operative lost half a mark under Workers' Rights


Former Co-op executive wins her equal pay and unfair dismissal claims (16 November 2018)

In November 2017 Ethical Consumer viewed a report on the Business and Human Rights Resources website titled, 'Brazil/UK: JBS supplied beef to UK retailers from Brazilian farm being investigated for forced labour; comments from Waitrose, NHS, Marks & Spencer, Co-op, Sainsbury’s, Lidl and Princes', and dated June 2017. The report stated:

'an investigation by the Guardian...and Repórter Brasil show[e]... that JBS, one of the world's largest meat processing companies, previously purchased cattle from a farm under federal investigation for using workers as modern-day slaves. JBS says it ceased buying from the farm on discovering the alleged link to labour abuses...Its produce is used in tinned corned beef sold by major retailers including Waitrose, Marks & Spencer, Co-Op, Sainsbury's, Lidl and Princes....

In... June 2016,...police officers discovered men forced to live in inhumane and degrading conditions, with no shelter and no toilets or drinking water...[W]orkers were in debt bondage, with payments for food and protective equipment illegally deducted from their wages. The farm owner, Antônio José Junqueira Vilela Filho, had previously been fined...for deforesti[on]... the Co-op also said they were conducting internal supply chain investigations.'

The company lost half a mark in the Workers' Rights category.


Brazil/UK: JBS supplied beef to UK retailers from Brazilian farm being investigated for forced labou

In December 2019 Ethical Consumer viewed the Co-operative Group completed questionnaire. In response to a question about its cocoa sourcing the company stated:
100% certified by the Fairtrade Foundation since May 2017
All Co-op block chocolate has been 100% Fairtrade since 2002 - they work with Divine and Kuapa Kokoo.
In 2016, Co-op moved all own-brand Easter eggs to Fairtrade.
Since May 2017, all Co-op own-brand cocoa has been sourced on Fairtrade terms (even when used as an ingredient). In 2017, Co-op moved all chocolate confectionery to All That Can Be Fairtrade.
It was working closely with the Fairtrade Foundation on their ‘She Deserves’ campaign which is around the ask to ensure a Living Wage for farmers.
FLO-CERT audits all Fairtrade supply chains and we work with the Fairtrade Foundation to verify our cocoa sourcing work.

In West Africa, as part of our commitment to Fairtrade cocoa, we are investing in the funding of Fairtrade Africa’s Women’s Leadership School. The Leadership School is working with women from seven farmer groups in Cote D’Ivoire. The women will be trained in business skills such as decision making, managing resources, and leadership, so that they can go on to take up more important roles in their farmer organisations and communities.

As the company was sourcing 100% certified cocoa it was not marked down in the Workers' Rights category for likelihood of forced or child labour in its cocoa supply chains.


Questionnaire response December 2019 (20 January 2020)