Truly ethical trading

Ethical trading: hero image: citrus factory

We champion the best labour standards in our supply chains, acting responsibly towards the workers who make our products and being proud of how we behave towards the people we do business with.

Our commitment

Co-op is committed to supporting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and improving conditions in our supply chain. In line with this, our aim is to be the UK's leading retailer in this vital area, and we will continue to strenuously apply our 'Sound Sourcing Code of Conduct' across our supply base. We’re active members of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) and other key stakeholder groups - read more below.

We're all about working together

Driving continuous improvements in working conditions in a global supply chain is a shared responsibility, between us and our suppliers. That’s why we have a ‘Supplier’s Guide to Ethical Trade’ setting out the standards we expect our suppliers to meet and a comprehensive supplier engagement programme.

We work with key partners and member groups, because we know we can’t act on our own.

We recognise that issues can be systematic and require long-term sustainable improvements to address root causes and drive change. There is no ‘quick fix’ but we firmly believe that collective effort will lead to significant and impactful results. Read more about our Human Rights Focus and work on the ground.

Our partners include:

Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI)

Co-op is a founding member of the ETI - an alliance of companies, trade unions and voluntary organisations working in partnership to improve the lives of workers across the globe who make or grow consumer goods. We actively participate in a wide range of ETI working groups to address systemic issues.


We use the Sedex platform, the world’s leading community for managing data on responsible sourcing, to manage our monitoring programme. The Co-op’s Ethical Trade Manager is an elected Member Director on the Sedex Board and we’re active participants in the Sedex Stakeholder Forum.

Stronger Together

Co-op is a founding partner of Stronger Together, a multi-stakeholder collaborative initiative, whose purpose is to support organisations to tackle modern slavery within their businesses and supply chains.

Gangmasters & Labour Abuse Authority

The GLAA works in partnership to protect vulnerable and exploited workers and regularly shares insights at our conferences and regional forums to build the capacity of suppliers in tackling modern slavery.

Food Network for Ethical Trade (FNET)

We’ve supported the creation of FNET, a collaborative supplier driven initiative established to improve human rights in global food supply chains through a common approach to managing ethical trade. Co-op’s Ethical Trading Manager is an elected representative on FNET’s Strategic Advisory Group.

Responsible Recruitment Toolkit

We are founding sponsors of the Responsible Recruitment Toolkit (RRT) to offer expert, pragmatic support to suppliers in order to achieve responsible recruitment in their supply chains.

Our approach

Collaboration is at the very heart of our approach. We believe it is essential to developing sustainable solutions to issues that put workers’ interests first. We take this approach in the way we implement our monitoring programme, the way we work with our suppliers and peers to identify solutions to challenging issues, and the way we deliver our supplier engagement activities. Working with our suppliers to deliver long-term sustainable change, the key behaviours we champion are:

  • Proactivity

  • Ownership

  • Partnership

Collaborating with suppliers

Since 2011, we’ve organised and ran 145 supplier ethical trade events, reaching thousands of suppliers and over 3,000 sites in countries across the globe. We are committed to working collaboratively to create long term sustainable solutions to issues and having a positive impact on all the workers in our supply chain.

Our Ethical Trading programme

With growing challenges and increasing long and complex supply chains, the need to build strong supplier relations based on trust and transparency is key to see long-term and sustainable improvements to working conditions in the supply base.

Our monitoring programme covers all tier 1 sites as mandatory and as part of our commitment to transparency in 2019, we are publishing our Supplier List for direct suppliers.

100% of Tier 1 sites have a completed a Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ) and all Tier 1 high-risk sites are independently audited. We have mapped and risk assessed our supplier base beyond Tier 1 in high–risk categories such as produce and protein. When we find issues, we work with our suppliers to put things right. In our 2017/18 audits, 2,947 issues were raised (78% are completed, we’ve agreed a plan to complete 19% in 2019, and 3% are outstanding and have been escalated).

†862 Tier 1 and 1,122 beyond Tier 1. Data correct as reported in our Co-op Way Report 2018, where more information can be found.

The programme

  • We have a set of objectives to drive improvements in working conditions, making sure that the workers who make our products are treated responsibly and ethically.
  • All our own-brand direct suppliers complete a self-assessment questionnaire on Sedex and we continue to increase transparency of our indirect supply chain.
  • We carry out hundreds of independent ethical audits on supplier sites each year based on a risk assessment.
  • We have annual ethical trade review meetings with key suppliers to assess capability and strategy to manage ethical trade, and to progress, develop and agree priorities.
  • We have identified our top 8 human rights risks and have activity in place to mitigate risks and improve working conditions.
  • We hold supplier workshops and conferences across the UK and the globe to provide capability building, support and guidance, and share best practice.
  • We provide practical support to site managers to help them understand and meet our requirements through workbooks and resources.
  • We have rolled out buyer training sessions and committed to integrating ethical trade into core business activities.

Our events – working together

Strategic Supplier Forum

In 2016 we established a Strategic Ethical Trade Forum with our key suppliers, providing a safe space for us to talk about protecting people in our supply chain for suppliers. Topics covered have included identifying risk and tackling modern slavery, consultations on new policies, supplier studies, and horizon scanning workshops to inform future strategy. The forum meets twice a year at our head office.

Global Supplier Forums

In Spain and Egypt we have played a central role in building local forums to address key challenges and share good practice. In Italy we are working collaboratively to improve working conditions for migrant workers in agriculture.

Co-op food ethical trading monitoring programme

The Co-op food ethical trading monitoring programme aims to stamp out modern slavery and exploitative working practices across the world, with regular checks on our suppliers and producers. The programme covers: 1,984 sites, 6 continents, 74 countries, over half a million workers.

UK Regional Supplier Forums

Our regional forums bring suppliers together to discuss challenges and address key issues on their sites and within their global supply chains. There are four active forums located in Scotland and Northern Ireland, North of England, East of England and Central England that meet up to two times a year.