Finest ethics…and onion chutney

Don’t stock goods from the illegal settlements in the occupied territories – that is the move by the Co-operative Group, building on its current policy.

The top comments from newsite Reddit are:

“I love the Co-op. It’s nice to see one major organization to attempt to put an ethical ethos at the heart of their business practices rather than simply living for profit margins.” bibs

“You know the do banking as well? And they refuse to invest in arms dealing. Pretty much every other bank profits from the arms trade in some way.

Also their caremalised onion chutney is really nice.” pyrexdish

“They also do funeral care, and arms dealing would create more funerals for them. That’s ethics at it’s finest.” WorstRedditDetective

The new midwives

Co-operatives Europe is an active and energetic network that brings us together, as part of the International Co-operative Alliance. Alongside this, there are specialist European networks for worker co-ops, consumer co-ops , co-operative and mutual banks and for agricultural co-ops. Right now, it is co-operative week in Brussels.

One main policy achievement recently has been a European Court of Justice judgement on ‘state aids’, which is very helpful as it sets out characteristics of co-operatives, not just small but large too, that create space for public support. This was of direct benefit to the Italian sector, but is of potential relevance more widely.

Across Europe, there is an active programme to mark the role of co-operatives. In June there will be a young co-operators forum in Bulgaria, with a linked programme in Italy, in Genoa in September.

Also in Italy, the cooperative sector has signed a Charter for equal opportunities and equality in the workplace and a number of coops are introducing minimum quotas for women on Boards – in line with Italian legislation for representation in listed companies. They are looking to launch in Rome later in 2012 a European Network of Women Co-operators.

An impressive speaker on a panel I chaired this week on support services for co-operatives was Anna Carendi, of the Swedish coop business agency Coompanion. Funded primarily through national and regional state funds, but with nine hundred members too, this is a large scale source of business support with 130 employees and 12m euro – helping 575 start-up coops last year and advising 4,500 businesses.

She describes the role of her staff, which is appropriate too for many in the UK, as being “midwives” for new co-operative enterprise and a fairer economy.

Tomato time

A month ago, I blogged on the growing interest in European and global purchasing and procurement for food across co-operative retailers. 2013 could be the international year of … co-operative spaghetti, I suggested.

Well, in fact, I learned here today in Brussels that it is going to be co-operative tomatoes.

The Japanese Consumers Co-operative Union is collaborating with Coop Italia to help them develop a boxed tomato sauce that is high quality and with packaging that is easy to recycle.

A fisherman’s fable

Pauline Green, the distinguished President of the International Co-operative Alliance has always said that co-operatives are about serving human need and not greed. Here, adapted from an old teaching story I picked up via Swami Atmapriyananda is a co-operative fable that says the same thing.

A fisherman is lounging at the wharf and a financier comes up and asks why he isn’t out there fishing. “I caught enough fish to share around yesterday. Today, someone else in the co-operative is fishing.”

“But if you fish more, the co-op could sell the extra fish and make yourselves more money.”

“Why would we want to do that?”

“With the money, the co-op could put down a deposit for a loan and buy more boats and hire the other people round here to man them.”

“Why would we want to do that?”

“Well, then you could make even more money and sell out to someone else – and then you can all retire.”

“Why would we want to do that?”

“Then you could spend your days lounging on the wharf and only fishing as much as you pleased.”

“But that’s what I’m doing right now.”

In fashion

It is co-operative fashion week online, as co-ops involved in clothing and design from around the world post their stories on

First up is Royah. “Afghanistan used to produce fantastic silk, but it lost much of its talent and capacity over 27 years of conflict,” explains Gabriella Ghidoni. She founded the co-op along with two others in 2005. The design co-operative, which now employs twenty women, has a two-fold mission: to revive the country’s rich history in textiles and embroidery, and to create sustainable job opportunities for local women.