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Co-operative Bank sets out bold agenda on corporate behaviour

October 1999

The Co-operative Bank has outlined ambitious new plans to become a world leader in corporate responsibility by measuring its indirect impact on society rather than just its direct impact.

The plans envisage the bank assessing ‘the ways in which our activities influence our partners’ behaviour and the social and environmental impacts that follow as a consequence’.

As an example, it says it eventually hopes not just to monitor how many miles its staff travel on bank business, but how many miles customers travel as a result of the manner in which the bank delivers its services.

The bank, which has 1.75 million customers, 4,000 employees and uses 2,600 suppliers, will begin work on assessing the secondary impact of its products and services in 2001, with the process expected to be completed by 2003.

After that, it says, ‘we believe we will be in a position to claim that we have as good an understanding of the social and ecological impact of our activities as any business in the world’.

The plan of action, mapped out in the bank’s newly-published second Partnership Report, has been put forward in a study undertaken on its behalf by the UK’s National Centre for Business and Ecology.

The study says the bank can step up to ‘a new level of corporate responsibility’ by using 19 indicators to monitor its secondary impact. These include:

emissions as a result of customer travel

the number of accounts provided to low income households

the wages of factory workers involved in assembling computers used by the bank.

Full findings of the study, which has been examined by a panel of independent experts, will be made public by the year end.

Richard Evans of ethics etc, the social accounting consultancy which audited the mammoth 104-page Partnership Report, claimed the new initiative would be a radical one. ‘To the best of our knowledge this exhaustive approach to organizational disclosure has never been undertaken before,’ he said.

The partnership report also sets down a number of other objectives for the bank, including a commitment to train some staff to act as ‘ethical champions’ who give advice and guidance to colleagues on ethical policy. The bank will also draw up revised equal opportunities and community investment policies by the end of this year.

Although the report says the bank has achieved 45 of the 68 targets it set itself in last year’s debut partnership report, it admits equal opportunities was one area in which there was little progress during 1998.

It failed to develop a diversity policy as planned, and still does not have ‘a complete measure’ of the number of disabled people it employs. With ethnic minorities still under-represented among its workforce, it admits the failure to develop a diversity policy is ‘unsatisfactory’.

The report says it was ‘a cause for concern’ that despite a pledge to examine the impact of branch closures on local communities, the bank did not do so when it closed one branch last year.

However, chief executive Mervyn Pedelty claimed the report showed the bank was ‘largely fulfilling our mission’.


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