I spent last night sharing a stage in Hamburg with Coldplay, Shakira, Pharrell Williams and Ellie Goulding. Thankfully for the 9,000 young social campaigners at the Global Citizen music festival, I wasn’t doing any singing. My role was to represent the Co-op and to call on our fellow retailers and bottled water producers to join our commitment to tackle global water poverty.
The festival has become a regular fixture ahead of the annual meeting of world leaders that make up the G20. It’s a way of thanking young people for caring about the planet and for the pressure they put on world leaders and big business to make change happen.
The young people in the audience had all earned their place by demonstrating a commitment to the United Nation’s Sustainability Development Goals to end extreme poverty, inequality and to fight climate change.
A tradition of social commitment
The Co-op has its own track record of social commitment, both at home and around the world, that meant we’d also earned our place in Hamburg last night.
Our business grew out of a response to social injustice that left individuals, families and whole communities, exploited and impoverished in the towns and cities of 19th century industrial England. Our first Co-op shops, owned and run by local communities, addressed that injustice by providing food at fair prices that was safe to eat.
It started a Co-op tradition of corporate responsibility and community mindedness that’s still going strong.
Throughout the 19th and early 20th century we promoted responsible retailing, workers’ rights, women’s suffrage and better education for all. The values of co-operative enterprise soon became a national and then international movement – a better way of doing business.
In recent decades that understanding of ourselves as part of the global Co-op movement led us to make important decisions. In the 1980s we supported Black South Africans by boycotting South African produce despite the opposition of the British government. In the early 1990s we made Fairtrade mainstream on the British high street to give farmers around the world a better deal. Since 2009 we’ve supported Palestinian calls not to buy produce from illegal West Bank Settlements.
So we’ve always campaigned, always looked at how we could help communities in need.
Most recently in the U.K. we’ve shared £9m with 4,000 local causes chosen by our colleagues and members to strengthen community life in every part of the country. Our Local Community Fund is open for applications supporting what matters most to communities across nation. We’re also supporting the survivors of Modern Slavery through training and paid work in our shops and depots.
Global Water Poverty
That long history of social concern is what brought me to Hamburg. For more than ten years the Co-op has been playing its part to tackle water poverty.
There’s more than half a billion people on the planet without access to clean water. And more than two billion who don’t have a proper toilet to use. That can’t be right, especially when we in the rich countries of the world can afford to buy bottled water whenever we want.
So we donate 3p from every litre of Co-op branded water we sell. That’s raised £7m so far which we’ve spent through the One Foundation to bring clean water and better hygiene to 1.5m people in Sub Saharan Africa.
Because we know the world needs to do more we’ve become the first business in the world to join the Global Investment Fund for Water (GIFFW).
The fund is calling on producers of branded bottled water, and the retailers who sell it, to make micro-donations from each bottle so that collectively we can build a worldwide annual fund of $100m to bring clean, safe water to everyone who needs it. So in addition to the money from sales of Co-op branded water, we’ll be giving an additional 1p per litre from sales of other water brands to support the new Global Fund. That will bring our total annual commitment to water poverty to more than £2m a year.
If you’d like to help encourage more businesses and more governments to get behind the Global Investment Fund for Water go to globalcitizen.org/water.
We do these things because of who we are and how we’re owned. We’re more than just food shops, funeral directors and insurance providers. We’re a movement for social change and economic responsibility that believes the world works better when we co-operate.
Co-op Group CEO