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Co-operative businesses to ponder social goals

May 2001

The UK’s co-operative businesses are meeting this month to discuss how best to ‘re-connect’ their financial and social goals.

The 47 firms, which include the Co-operative Group, Co-operative Bank and Co-operative Insurance Society, will discuss the initiative in Birmingham at the annual meeting of the Co-operative Congress, the central decision-making event for the Co-operative movement.

The congress, on 27 and 28 May, will consider recommendations from a 12-person commission that has spent a year looking at how best to improve the performance of the businesses, which have a combined yearly turnover of $11.5billion (£8bn) and employ 105,000 people in the UK.

The commission’s report says the businesses need to establish key social performance indicators that aim to ‘reconnect their commercial and social goals’.

Although the report does not state what the social performance indicators should cover, it recommends they should be presented annually to the board of each business to measure any progress made.

A system for social reporting – possibly based on the AA1000 standard and disseminated on the internet – should also be developed so there is consistency across the businesses.

‘The idea is that the social goals of the co-operative movement should be seen as the basis of a virtuous circle from which can be derived competitive advantage and hence commercial success,’ said Co-operative Group trade liaison officer Peter Rogan.

‘In turn that commercial success will allow more to be reinvested into meeting social goals’, he added.

While the commission says reinvestment in the businesses must always have first claim on profits, it adds that they should in future aim to distribute at least 10 per cent of their surpluses as a ‘community dividend’ to initiatives such as social venture capital funds and a foundation to fund community programmes.

They should also aim to become involved in providing community-based care for the young and elderly, plus financial services ‘for those whose needs are not being met by the commercial sector’.

Members of the commission included Unity Trust Bank chairman Lord Fyfe of Fairfield, Trades Union Congress general secretary John Monks and Lord Simon of Highbury, a former BP chairman.

They produced a 60-point action programme designed to ‘revitalise’ co-operative businesses, which they claimed were showing signs of ‘significant under-performance’ in financial and social terms.

The advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi commented: ‘What the co-operative movement is doing is great, but perhaps they should also focus their efforts onto rebranding their image’.


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