The Co-op as Campaign – taking action on modern slavery

Unadulterated food was the first campaign of the co-operative movement, a natural offshoot of efforts by members to meet their own needs in the nineteenth century. In the late twentieth century, the Co-op campaigned with its members on issues of international debt and climate change – an unadulterated planet.

In a sign of its return to health, the Co-op has returned to campaigning. With 4.6m members, a decision was taken in May 2017 to campaign on the issue of Modern Slavery. Since then, building on the core focus of reducing the risk of slavery in its supply chains, the campaign has had three aims:

  • awareness of slavery – research the Co-op ran in 2017 suggested 4 out or 10 people in the UK do not know what modern slavery is;
  • extension of Project Bright Future which is the Co-op’s unique scheme to provide a pathway back to paid employment for victims of Modern Slavery; and
  • greater support from all of civic society for victims of modern slavery to assist their recovery.

Bright Future had an initial launch in March 2017, with independent evaluation by University of Liverpool in November 2017 and Parliamentary Roundtable coverage in January 2018.

The Co-op is now recognised as the leading business voice in the UK on the issue – a member of the Home Secretary’s Business Against Slavery Forum, on the Expert Panel for the Evening Standard’s Slavery campaign chaired by Cardinal Nichols of Westminster, with a report due to be published imminently and often held up by the Home Secretary and the UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner as the model for businesses to follow.  In November the Co-op became only the sixth company – and the first UK company – to be recognised for leadership on the issue with the Thomson Reuter’s Stop Slavery Award for work on victim support.

The Co-op has worked openly and collaboratively with other co-operative societies, with a number engaged in Bright Future. Alongside this, Co-operatives UK has shared resources with our members –

The call is now out for members to sign up. There is now a very clear, simple and effective way for anyone to support the campaign – by writing to their MP to ask them to support Lord McColl’s Private Members Bill which is easily done by clicking on the #FreeforGood campaign.  All you need to do is click, enter your postcode, your email address and – ideally – add in a line to the letter saying you are a co-operator and… press send.

Co-operative values are about working together. When you co-operate, you raise the limit of what could otherwise be done. In this case, a return to business health and a return to campaigning means that the Co-op is helping to transform the lives of some of the most vulnerable and exploited people in our country and the world.

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