Ethical trading: hero image: citrus factory

Truly ethical trading

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 protecting the fundamental rights of workers in our supply chain. In line with this, our 'Sound Sourcing Code of Conduct' sets out the workplace and employment standards that we strenuously apply across our supply base, which is based on the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) Base Code and core international labour standards. We’re committed to driving improvements for working conditions and aim to be the UK's leading retailer in this vital area.

We believe that everyone deserves to be treated fairly.

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 to support suppliers in working toward meeting these standards.

We recognise that issues can be systemic and require long-term, sustainable improvements to address root causes and drive change. We don’t have a ‘cut and run’ approach, instead we’re committed to working with suppliers, understanding there is no ‘quick fix’ and 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:

We know that human rights violations will only stop if we all work together, so we work with key partners and member groups to share what we know and combine our efforts.

Our other key partners include groups and initiatives such as the Modern Slavery Intelligence Network (MSIN), Unseen and the Spanish Ethical Trade Forums. For further details about our collaborative work with key partners please refer to our Modern Slavery Statement.

Our approach

Collaboration is at the very heart of our approach. We believe collaboration 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 - Independent anticipation and management of issues
  • Ownership – Identify, map, risk assess and address issues
  • Partnership – Working together to find long-term solutions

To recognise supplier best practice, we host our Treating People Fairly Awards and publish supplier case studies to showcase excellence in human rights practice. The case studies encourage suppliers to learn from each other and inspire new ways of mitigating future threats to labour rights and worker welfare.

Our Ethical Trading programme

We have key ways in which we drive improvements to 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.
  • As part of our commitment to supply chain transparency, we have disclosed details of our Co-op Food own-brand Tier 1 supplying sites, along with disaggregate gender worker data. A full list of our Tier 1 suppliers and worker data can be found here. In 2022 we further increased transparency by mapping and publishing details of all tiers of three of our high-risk supply chains including Top fruit and Stone fruit (e.g., apples, pears, peaches and plums), Warm Water Prawns and Pork.
  • We’ve identified and shared our top eight human rights risks and have activity in place to mitigate risks and improve working conditions.
  • 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 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’ve rolled out buyer training sessions and committed to integrating ethical trade into core business activities.

With growing challenges and increasingly long and complex supply chains, building strong supplier relations based on trust and transparency is key to achieving long-term and sustainable improvements to working conditions in the supply base. Read more about our human rights focus here.

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.

Our ethical trade monitoring programme reaches over 890,574 workers in 3,212 sites located in 63 countries across 6 continents. 100% of Tier 1 sites have completed a Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ) and 100 % of Tier 1 high risk sites are independently audited. We’ve mapped and risk assessed our supply 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 2023 monitoring programme figures, we reported to have 1,616 independent ethical audits across our supplying sites. 8,043 issues were raised in these audits, in which (88 % are completed, and we’ve agreed a plan to complete the remaining 12% in 2024).

†682 Tier 1 and 2,530 beyond Tier 1. Data correct as reported in our Co-operate report 2023 where more information can be found.

Our events – working together

Over the last 11 years we have supported the roll out of over 290 events, reaching 20,000 people and over 10,000 sites across the globe.

Strategic supplier forum

Strategic supplier forum

We’ve 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. Topics covered have included identifying risk and tackling modern slavery, consultations on new policies, supplier case studies, and horizon scanning workshops to inform future strategy.

Global supplier forums

Global supplier forums

In Spain and Egypt we’ve played a central role in building local forums to address key challenges and share good practice. In Italy we’re working collaboratively to improve working conditions for migrant workers in agriculture. Read more about our global identified high risk areas here.

UK regional supplier forums

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.