Our human rights focus

Our human rights focus hero image

As a consumer co-operative, people are 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 understand that human rights issues can be systemic and require long-term sustainable improvements to address root causes and drive change. We also recognise the limitations of relying solely on audits in identifying risks to labour rights, therefore we have a comprehensive programme in place to tackle the issues on the ground with suppliers and other organisations around the world. Read more about our capacity building programme here.

Our human rights commitment

We are 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.

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

Our priority labour rights risks

We have identified the most significant labour rights risks in our supply base as: modern slavery, exploitation of vulnerable workers, lack of worker voice and representation and smallholder livelihoods.

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 resolving conflicts effectively and, combined with representative structures, empower workers to negotiate better conditions for themselves.


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.

Our top 8 identified high risk areas

To identify priority labour rights risks, we’ve used input from stakeholder and publicly available human rights indicators to evaluate key areas of risk in our supply chains. We then combined information on country-specific human rights risks and on specific labour standards issues, analysed where our greatest risks are, and identified existing initiatives which we are part of that could help mitigate these risks.

In 2019, based on this analysis, and as part of our commitment to greater transparency, we identified the following 8 priority areas of activity, covering 17 sourcing countries. The salient risk focus areas represent over 75% of all workers in the scope of the Ethical Trade Programme. We’ve set out what the issues are, the supply chain and products, and how we’re responding to the issues. Read about every area or focus on the one that interests you most by clicking on the links.

Our Future of Food ambition 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 targets build our ongoing monitoring and supplier engagement programme as well as 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’ll support our 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 2021, we’ll 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 2022 we’ll carry out three independent human rights impact assessments to focus on vulnerable workers, such as women 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 2021 we will continue working with key suppliers to map the use of recruitment fees and identify hotspots to develop on long-term action plans in high risk areas. Our key suppliers will have agreed action plans on addressing recruitment fees in 2021.
  • 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’re 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:

  • As part of our commitment to supply chain transparency, we have shared details of our Co-op Food own-brand Tier 1 supplying sites, along with country level worker data. A full list of our Tier 1 supplying sites can be found here. We are also continuing to map our supply chains beyond Tier 1 in high risk categories.
  • By the end of 2021 we’ll 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:

  • We have disclosed disaggregate gender data for our supply chain and will develop and launch a gender strategy in 2021, specific to the risks of female workers in our supply chain. The link to this data can be found here.
  • By the end of 2021 we’ll embed training for effective workplace communication, grievance mechanisms and access to remedy for workers through our supplier forums and engagement activities. Read more about our supplier events here.