Our Human Rights Focus

As a consumer co-operative, people are 100% at the heart of everything we do. A changing environment and food system can bring uncertainty for the people involved in producing the food we love so it’s more important than ever that we do what we can to make sure everyone gets a fair deal.

We believe that respecting human rights is a shared responsibility. That’s why we work with our suppliers to ensure everyone involved in producing our products is treated fairly. We recognise that human rights issues can be systemic and require long-term sustainable improvements to address root causes and drive change.

Read more below about globally identified high risk issues and the projects we have in place to tackle the issues on the ground with suppliers and other organisations around the world. Discover more about our ongoing monitoring and supplier engagement programme here

Our Human Rights 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 robustly 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.

Our commitments on ethical trade, human rights and modern slavery are outlined in two key policies:

  • Ethical Trade and Human Rights Policy Position Statement which shares our approach to protecting the fundamental rights of workers in our supply chains.
  • Sound Sourcing Code of Conduct which is based on the Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI) Base Code and sets workplace and employment standards we expect in all sites that we source from.
  • The ETI Base Code is an internationally recognised set of labour standards based on ILO conventions. It is used by ETI members and others to drive improvements in working conditions around the world.

Co-op has identified the most significant labour rights risks in its supply base as: modern slavery, exploitation of vulnerable workers, lack of worker voice and representation and smallholder livelihoods. We’ve used these to prioritise 8 areas of activity covering 17 sourcing countries.

Modern Slavery, Vulnerable Workers, Worker Voice & Smallholders

Modern slavery

This includes forced and compulsory labour, servitude and human trafficking. Traffickers and slave drivers coerce, deceive and force individuals to work against their will into a life of abuse, servitude and inhumane treatment.

Exploitation of vulnerable workers

Many workers in agricultural and food supply chains are potentially vulnerable to discrimination, exploitation or abuse. Women, migrant workers and temporary workers are at particular risk. This can be due to language barriers, informal recruitment, lack of information on employment rights and seasonal work in rural locations.

Worker Voice & Representation

Many workers do not have proper channels through which they can voice grievances or concerns with employers, which can lead to issues of exploitation, ineffective communication, poor workplace culture and discrimination. Effective communication channels are key to resolve conflicts effectively and combined with representative structures, empower workers to negotiate better conditions for themselves.

Smallholders

In supply chains across developing countries, there are many small farms operating within informal economies. Human rights issues can occur amongst smallholders due to the informal and small-scale nature of the work, the low prices they’re paid for their products, poor communication channels to share local and international standards and their lack of visibility in global supply chains.

As part of commitment to greater transparency, for each of our 8 priority areas, we set out what the issues are, the supply chain and products, and how we are responding to the issues.

1) Modern Slavery & Vulnerable Workers | UK | Fresh Produce and Protein

Identified industry issues

Produce and protein industries in the UK are mainly seasonal and attract a large number of migrant workers to low wage and unskilled work. The seasonal nature of the industries leads many companies to use third party labour providers to supply workers on a temporary basis. As it becomes increasingly difficult to find enough workers to fulfil orders, employers are at risk of using unethical labour providers who cut corners on proper recruitment processes, creating an increased risk of modern slavery. We know these issues exist but due to language barriers or fear of reprisal, workers are unlikely to voice any concerns about working conditions. According to the Gangmasters & Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), agriculture is among the worst sectors for modern slavery in the UK.

How Co-op is taking action

We are committed to eliminating modern slavery from our global supply chains. We are one of the UK retailers leading the way to raise awareness and understanding of the issue among suppliers and through initiatives such as Stronger Together.

  • We run a series of UK regional forums and annual large-scale conferences to bring our suppliers together to discuss challenges and share good practice on working with a migrant and multicultural workforce, and have provided practical tools and training to address key issues to improve standards for workers.
  • We are a founder sponsor of Stronger Together, an alliance to reduce forced labour and human trafficking. Since 2013 we have actively supported the roll out of Stronger Together training and tools to all our suppliers with sites in the UK. An independent impact assessment in 2017 demonstrated the significant impact of Stronger Together in raising awareness of suppliers on modern slavery and building their capacity in identifying and tackling issues.
  • Our key strategic suppliers report on their modern slavery prevention strategies through their annual ethical trade review meetings with Co-op, and through the Stronger Together Progress Reporting Tool.
  • We supported the development of the British Retail Consortium Modern Slavery Protocol to help drive consistent practice amongst retailers when handling cases of modern slavery.
  • In 2018 we trained produce suppliers on the Fresh Produce Consortium temporary accommodation guidance, and worked collaboratively to develop e-learning tools for growers.
  • We are sponsors of the Responsible Recruitment Toolkit, and provide our suppliers with subsidised access to the tool and free training on how to embed responsible recruitment practices and eliminate recruitment fees.
  • In 2017 we launched our Bright Future programme, which offers the opportunity of a paid work placement and a job in our food business to those who have been rescued from modern slavery. Read more about our advocacy work to improve victim support and our efforts to raise awareness of modern slavery in our Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Statement.

Future priorities

We’ll continue to be active participants in the collaborative initiatives outlined above, and we have set out a number of human rights goals as part of our Future of Food ambition to mitigate our risks.

2) Modern Slavery, Vulnerable Workers & Worker Voice | Indonesia, Thailand & Vietnam | Fish & Seafood

Identified industry issues

The Global Slavery Index estimates that there are 1.2m modern slavery victims in Indonesia, 421,000 in Vietnam and 610,000 in Thailand. The problem is particularly bad in the fishing and seafood industry with systematic violations of rights and forced labour, made worse by the amount of migrant labour used. Additionally, each country also scores poorly on the ITUC Global Rights Index 2018, which measures access to trade union rights.

How Co-op is taking action

Through our participation in a range of collaborative initiatives and working groups,actively addresses issues in seafood supply chains and has achieved a number of successful results:

  • In April 2019, we signed the Environmental Justice Foundation’s Charter for Transparency, designed to help supermarkets ensure their seafood supply chains are free from illegal fishing and human rights abuse.
  • Co-op participates in the Seafish Ethical Common Language Group (SECLG) that brings together all sectors of the seafood supply chain to provide a collective response to unethical practices. The group has launched the Responsible Fishing Scheme (RFS) - a voluntary vessel based programme certifying high standards of crew welfare and responsible catching practices. We’re now working with our suppliers to implement the standard.
  • We are founder members and sit on the steering committee of the Seafood Ethics Action Alliance (SEA Alliance). This is industry alliance launched in 2018 aims to share information and best practice and provide a forum for collective action on ethical risks and social compliance issues related to wild capture fisheries.
  • We are active participants in the ETI Thailand Working Group, which engages with local and international stakeholders including civil society, workers’ representatives, Thai companies and the Thai government.
  • Co-op has supported the multi-stakeholder ILO Good Labour Practices (GLP) programme since 2018. This comprehensive fisheries industry improvement programme combines industry labour guidelines with a good labour practices training programme. Special focus is given to unacceptable forms of work such as child labour and forced labour.

Future priorities

Co-op will continue to be active participants in the collaborative initiatives outlined above, and we have set out a number of human rights goals as part of our Future of Food ambition to mitigate our risks.

3) Modern Slavery & Vulnerable Workers | Spain | Fresh Produce

Identified industry issues

Agriculture in Spain relies on migrant and seasonal labour, with some found to be exploited. Workers - often from Morocco, North Africa or Eastern Europe - are economically vulnerable and often have little education or ability to speak the local language. Even if they’re paid appropriately, they may have paid an excessive fee to get the job from a recruiter in their home country, meaning they live in poverty whilst in Spain. Women are particularly likely to migrate to Spain for work and are especially vulnerable to exploitation due to social status and language barriers. Regulation and inspection of labour providers in the country is weak.

How Co-op is taking action

  • Since 2012 we’ve been running regular regional events in Spain to build the capacity of our suppliers to drive improvements in working conditions, as part of our global supplier engagement programme.
  • Co-op has played a pivotal role in creating the Spain Ethical Trade Forums for suppliers, which now has the support of 8 supermarkets and many key produce importers. The forums are established in the regions of Murcia, Almeria and Huelva, and provide a safe space for suppliers to share experiences and good practices, discuss their challenges, and work collaboratively to improve working conditions. They also provide a platform for regular expert training and for suppliers to engage with main stakeholders and relevant government departments.
  • We have supported the ETI human rights due diligence pilot project on agricultural supply chains in Spain. This collaborative project, aims to improve business competence and capacity in Spain and in the UK in tackling serious human rights risks, in addition to providing examples for wider application across other sectors and in other countries.
  • In 2019, Co-op is working collaboratively with other retailers and Stronger Together to develop training and tools for suppliers in Spain to reduce the risk of modern slavery.

Future priorities

Co-op will continue to be active participants in the collaborative initiatives outlined above, and we have committed to a number of human rights goals as part of our Future of Food ambition.

4) Modern Slavery & Vulnerable Workers | Italy | Canned Tomatoes and Fresh Produce

Identified industry issues

Migration to Europe via the South of Italy has been increasing for 15 years. There are a number of ghetto camps of undocumented ‘illegal’ migrants in the Puglia growing region. Seasonal products that need to be cut or harvested by hand – such as tomatoes, asparagus and grapes – may use undocumented workers, and there is potential for exploitation of those workers either by the direct employer or those acting as an informal agent. Some agents form a ‘caporalato’ (or gangmaster) system - an illegal but entrenched way of recruiting, managing and, in many cases, heavily exploiting casual agricultural workers.

How Co-op is taking action

  • Co-op has led activity with our main supplier to facilitate engagement with UK and European retailers, Government, local NGOs, industry associations and the ETI, to address these issues. This collaborative approach led to a multi-stakeholder meeting in Salerno, Italy in 2017 and the formation of the Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI) Italian Agriculture Working Group in October 2017, focused on driving collaborative action to improve conditions for migrant worker in Italian agriculture. As part of the ETI Italian Agriculture Working Group, we will commission an independent grower study in 2019, collecting evidence to influence a change in government policy and action to reduce risk.
  • We have advocated for change with in Italy, and in 2018 presented at the British Embassy in Rome with government and industry representatives to promote an ethical approach in the supply chains to counter labour exploitation.
  • Members of Co-op’s ethical trade team regularly visit Italy, as well as holding numerous consultations with our supplier and stakeholders. We‘ve contributed to reports on working conditions in the Italian agricultural industry supply chain and worked with our processing supplier to run supplier training sessions and forums in Puglia, for key co-operatives and grower associations.

Future priorities

Co-op will continue to be active participants in the collaborative initiatives outlined above, and we have set out a number of human rights goals as part of our Future of Food ambition to mitigate our risks.

5) Vulnerable Workers & Worker Voice | Egypt & Morocco | Fresh Produce

Identified industry issues

There is a large proportion of women working in the mainly seasonal produce industry in Egypt and Morocco. In 2011, Oxfam identified issues with working practices for women workers in Morocco such as low wages, poor workplace and transport health and safety standards, and no access to social security payments. Gender-based violence has also been reported in the Moroccan produce industry, and in Egypt trade union rights are very weak as ranked by the ITUC Global Rights Index, and there are issues of exploitation of vulnerable workers, including children, especially on smaller farms.

How Co-op is taking action

  • In 2012 the Co-op joined Oxfam, the ETI and other UK retailers to establish the Better Strawberries Group to review the risks identified in Moroccan produce and establish an action plan to address those risks. Initial priorities included helping women access statutory social security entitlements, obtain ID cards and receive the minimum wage. A travelling roadshow explained rights to female workers and their families and the standards they should expect at work. Seven years on, there have been significant improvements and Co-op works closely with suppliers and growers to continue to raise standards for workers in these supply chains.
  • Since 2010, Co-op has supported the Egyptian Supplier Ethical Trade Forum (ESET) where suppliers work together to improve working conditions in Egypt, specifically for those involved in casual labour. The forum has focused on sharing best practice and projects in health and safety, working with temporary workers and labour providers, womens’ empowerment and managing excessive working hours.

Future priorities:

Co-op will continue to be active participants in the collaborative initiatives outlined above, and we have committed to a number of human rights goals as part of our Future of Food ambition.

6) Modern Slavery, Vulnerable Workers, Worker Voice & Smallholders | South Africa & Kenya | Fresh Produce, Flowers, Tea & Wine

Identified industry issues

The produce and wine industries in South Africa, which predominantly rely on migrant workers from Zimbabwe and Lesotho, have known issues of exploitation including low wages, long working hours, poor health and safety, and inferior accommodation. In the Kenyan produce sector, there are similar risks for low skilled, uneducated, often female workers. Whilst many improvements have been made, many issues remain due to workers’ lack of education and empowerment, with female workers particularly vulnerable. A distrust of trade unions among employers reduces the ability of workers to change their situation.

How Co-op is taking action

  • Co-op sits on the Global Steering Group of Stronger Together South Africa, which, together with WIETA and SIZA, works to support South African agri-businesses to address the risk of forced labour. It provides producers with specific guidance to deter, detect and deal with the issue.
  • We supported the development of SIZA (Sustainability Initiative of South Africa) and WIETA (Wine and Agricultural Ethical Trading Association) and continue to collaborate with these initiatives to improve standards.
  • In Kenya, we’ve trained all our growers to implement good working practices on their farms with issues such as excessive working hours, harassment and treatment of casual and seasonal worker covered.
  • As part of Co-op’s leadership commitment to Fairtrade we are also working with suppliers in Kenya on projects to empower workers and improve the livelihood of smallholders in our tea,flowersand wine supply chains.

Future priorities

We’ll continue to be active participants in the collaborative initiatives outlined above, and we have set out a number of human rights goals as part of our Future of Food ambition to mitigate our risks.

We will also improve the lives of workers and smallholders through our ongoing commitment to Fairtrade:

  • We will build on our Fairtrade leadership and continue to strengthen producer communities around the world.
  • Through our work with Fairtrade and other partners, we will continue to explore how to pass on a greater share of value in our food supply chain.

7) Vulnerable Workers & Worker Voice | China | Non-Food

Identified industry issues

Labour turnover and mobility in China is high in many sectors as a result of internal and annual migration. Migrant workers on precarious employment contracts are particularly vulnerable to working excessive hours with inadequate pay for overtime, and some vocational student internships programmes in factories are considered indistinguishable from slavery. There can also be discrimination between workers of different hukou status (China’s household registration system). Many workers do not receive their social security entitlements. And at a governmental and legislative level, freedom of association in China is extremely limited with no independent unions operating in the country. Prison labour and labour camps are common, with reported links to the production of seasonal non-food products.

How Co-op is taking action

  • We have consolidated the number of trading relationships we have with suppliers in China and work closely with these suppliers to share our expectations of continuous improvement around working conditions. Co-op colleagues who visit China are trained in ethical trade and labour standards and work with suppliers to address concerns.
  • Co-op participates in the ETI China caucus, sharing knowledge with our suppliers on legislative changes around social security and workplace rights.
  • In 2019 we are working with key suppliers in China to deliver training on our ethical trade expectations and worker rights. We’ll also be convening a forum for non-food suppliers, focusing on ethical trade challenges and creating solutions to address issues such as seasonal supply relationships and modern slavery.

Future priorities

Co-op will continue to be active participants in the collaborative initiatives outlined above, and we have committed to a number of human rights goals as part of our Future of Food ambition.

8) Vulnerable Workers, Worker Voice & Smallholders | Belize, Columbia, Costa Rica, Cote D'Ivoire, Dominican Republic & Peru | Cocoa, Bananas and Sugar

Identified industry issues

The countries where products are sourced from have limited local infrastructure such as labour inspectorates, education systems and functioning courts of law which increases the vulnerability of workers and smallholders involved. There are known issues of child labour in cocoa supply chains and issues of smallholder incomes in cocoa, sugar and bananas. Human rights issues can occur in smallholdings due to the informal and small-scale nature of the work, poor communication channels and the general lack of visibility in global supply chains.

How Co-op is taking action

Co-op is committed to Fairtrade across cocoa, sugar and bananas, supporting the launch of Fairtrade in the UK and, for 20 years, helping develop the market to become the world’s largest retailer of Fairtrade goods.

Cocoa: - In 2000 we worked with Divine and their partner co-operative Kuapa Kokoo in Ghana to bring the first Fairtrade own brand chocolate to market. We’ve continued to work with Kuapa and Divine ever since. - In 2018 we completed the move to source all the cocoa, bananas, tea and coffee we sell or use as an ingredient in Co-op products, on Fairtrade terms. - We're the only UK supermarket with a 100% Fairtrade chocolate confectionery range. Sales support smallholder cocoa farmers in Peru, The Dominican Republic, Ghana and Ivory Coast.

Find out more

Bananas: - In 2000, we put the UK's first Fairtrade bananas on our shelves and in 2012 we switched all our bananas to Fairtrade and committed to supporting smallholders through our sourcing plan. - We’ve been working with Chito’s co-operative, COOBANA since 2007, helping to bring them into the Fairtrade system. Fairtrade premiums improve members’ access to water, sanitation and housing.

Find out more

Sugar: - We were the first retailer to sell Fairtrade sugar back in 2005 and converted our entire own brand range in 2008. - In 2016 we made a commitment that all the bagged sugar we sold would be Fairtrade certified to support small holder associations in lesser developed countries. - In Belize, members of co-operative BSCFA have been supported through agricultural training to improve their sugar crop and make their farms more resilient to climate change. Our commitment to Fairtrade sugar has bought back around £1million to sugar cane farmers in Belize.

Find out more

Future priorities

Co-op will continue to be active participants in the collaborative initiatives outlined above, and we have committed to a number of human rights goals as part of our Future of Food ambition. We’ll also improve the lives of workers and smallholders through our ongoing commitment to Fairtrade:

  • We will build on our Fairtrade leadership and continue to strengthen producer communities around the world.
  • Through our work with Fairtrade and other partners, we will continue to explore how to pass on a greater share of value in our food supply chain.

Our Human Rights Goals and Future Priorities

Co-op's Future of Food ambition our strategy for a sustainable future, sets out a range of human rights goals and commitments, outlined below, along with detailed targets to achieve these long term goals. These will build our ongoing monitoring and supplier engagement programme and our commitment to work collaboratively in a range of initiatives to address systemic issues

Find out more

Co-op Commitments

We’ll train and support our suppliers, working together to protect the people in our food supply chains:

  • We will support Co-op suppliers to be global advocates for change to improve human rights across our supply chains through the delivery of our global capacity building programme, reaching over 1000 delegates in 20 events each year.
  • From 2020, we will demonstrate annual improvements in the performance of key suppliers using our supplier capability performance framework.

We'll improve the lives of workers, by carrying out and publishing independent human rights impact assessments in high risk food supply chains by 2021, using our findings to drive change:

  • By the end of 2021 Co-op will carry out 3 independent human rights impact assessments to cover vulnerable workers, gender and smallholders in high risk supply chains. We’ll engage with key stakeholders in impact assessments and use the findings to drive improvements for farmers and workers.

We’ll campaign to end modern slavery and eliminate illegal and unfair recruitment fees in our global supply chains by 2025:

  • In 2019 we will support the development of tools and training, that help our suppliers tackle modern slavery, promote responsible recruitment and eliminate recruitment fees.
  • By 2020 we will work with key suppliers to map the use of recruitment fees and identify hotspots to develop on long-term action plans in high risk areas.
  • We will support the roll out of labour provider certification in the UK and demonstrate collaborative activity to create ethical recruitment models in high risk countries.

We are committed to supply chain transparency and will share the sites we source from and the human rights risks we face with members and customers by 2020:

  • In 2019 we will share details of our food own-brand Tier 1 production sites, and our plans to mitigate the most significant human rights risks in our supply chain, to provide greater transparency on our activities.
  • By the end of 2020 we will share details of suppliers at all tiers of three of our highest-risk food categories.

We’ll champion the role of women and vulnerable workers producing the food we sell - empowering them to improve their livelihoods:

  • In 2019, we will be developing an action plan specific to the risks of female workers in our supply chain including what Co-op can do to support their empowerment. We will be able to share this long-term strategy in 2020.
  • By the end of 2020 we will embed training for effective workplace communication, grievance mechanisms and access to remedy for workers in all our supplier forums and engagement activities.