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.

Here’s my stage moment.

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.

Steve Murrells
Co-op Group CEO

Join the conversation! 12 Comments

  1. Simply fabulous, what a statement to make!

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  2. Great to see the coop leading the ways again, lets hope all the other big groups follow.

    Liked by 1 person

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  3. So proud that our CEO is a real co-operator, and I had the privilege to work with him on the Food Board. Safe hands. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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  4. #gogo Steve Murrells let’s hope today is more peaceful in Hamburg

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  5. Brilliant to see our ongoing commitment to social change, particularly our support for Palestinians to retain a boycott of products of the illegal occupied territories.

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  6. Brave and necessary moves that are difficult for a retailer to make. So I am so pleased we, our Co-op, are taking such initiatives. It makes me want to shop and support the Co-op even more. Brilliant.

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  7. Yes I totally back any social issues and support helping any chosen cause. But please lets remember people who actually work for this organisation. Many are being made redundant on a regular basis. Staff who have devoted the majority of their working life’s to the coop. They will have raised £1000’s in their service, for local and national charities. You cannot buy the knowledge and experience these staff have. Lets also remember the staff who are worried on a daily basis that their job role, salary, could be changed with minimum notice. Phase1 of funeral care was handled very badly, with staff left in the dark. This ethically, transparent company needs to start looking after the staff at ground level. The business is run a lot on goodwill because the staff like to give something back. The senior executive board need to ask these questions, but not to the regional managers who seem only to care about budgets. Some of your staff will be in living in poverty. Give them full-time contracts not 20hr ones, give them choice. To keep saying the needs of the business doesn’t warrant this, isn’t correct or fair. Invest in the well-being of your staff and your staff will feel more motivated to do even more.

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  8. It’s a shame we’re not shouting about this. This event wasn’t on the news. Nowhere in the media, facebook, internet, have I read about this. Only through the intranet.

    I just know Sainsbury will be the next to hook onto this idea and then they’ll be all over the telly, facebook, internet shouting and screaming about it.

    What’s that? The Co-op did it first you say? Don’t be silly, it was Sainsburys. Facebook said so. Just like JS were the first to sell Fairtrade. . .

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  9. I am proud to work for the Co-op, we really do care about our local communities and injustice around the world, clean safe water should be for everyone

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  10. […] extended commitment to tackle global water poverty and calls on others to follow our lead. You can read more about this from our CEO Steve Murrells who was in Hamburg last Thursday to announce our £1m plus annual donation to the new Global […]

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