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

Our approach

Collaboration is at the very heart of our approach. We believe it’s 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

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.
  • 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’ve identified our top eight 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’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.

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 monitoring programme covers all 2,026 sites in 72 countries, across 6 continents with over half a million workers.

100% of Tier 1 sites have completed a Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ) and all Tier 1 high-risk sites are independently audited. We’ve 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 2019 monitoring programme figures, we reported to have 918 sites with independent audits. 3,821 issues were raised in these audits (83% are completed, we’ve agreed a plan to complete 15% in 2020, and 2% are outstanding and have been escalated).

†824 Tier 1 and 1,202 beyond Tier 1. Data correct as reported in our Co-op Way Report 2019, where more information can be found

Our events – working together

Since 2012, we’ve organised and run 148 supplier ethical trade events, reaching 5887 delegates and 3995 sites in many countries across the globe.

Strategic supplier forum

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. 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

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.

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. 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.