Focus: Corporate Responsibility - Co-op's investment grows despite declining profits

The Co-operative Group's report reveals that it spent £7.3m on its community programme in 2004. Anita Pati reports.

The Co-operative Group has increased its community investment over the past year despite a slump in profits, according to its annual report, published last week.

The group ploughed £7.3m into its community programmes over 2004, including £4.4m in financial support and £1.3m in employee time.

This, it claimed, was equivalent to 3.2 per cent of pre-tax profit, which qualified it for Business in the Community's Per Cent Standard, awarded to businesses that contribute at least 1 per cent of their profit to community causes.

The Co-operative Group lists food retail, pharmacy, funeral services, banking, life assurance, farm care, travel agency and property business among the many leaves in its portfolio. Initiatives over the past year include the launch of a diversity strategy, a commitment to taking all centrally procured energy from wind farms or hydropower, and the development of a purchasing process that screens suppliers against ethical, social and environmental standards.

Its Co-operative Group Dividend scheme lets Co-op Bank credit cardholders donate spare pennies to community projects in the geographical areas in which the group trades, resulting in 1,710 local community groups benefiting from total awards of £1.14m last year.

Another initiative is its Community Food Discount Card scheme, which saved 74 community groups £11,123 on their food shopping bills last year.

As part of its environmental strategy, the group donated more than £112,000 to five charities to help them continue their work on safer chemical use.

This included a £50,000 gift to the Bhopal Medical Appeal to mark the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster in India. The money will fund medical supplies for a survivors' clinic and a solar-powered generator.

The Co-operative Bank continued to run its Customers Who Care campaign, which focuses on safe chemical use. Last year, it worked with WWF-UK to target persistent and bio-accumulative chemicals, a campaign that was recognised by the BITC's "Big Tick" award for cause-related marketing.

The group also reported that its successful 2004 diversity strategy made "significant progress" in ethnic minority recruitment. BME groups now account for 7 per cent of branch and 8.6 per cent of customer services employees. However, this frontline success is not reflected in the Co-op's own membership and, by the Co-op's own admission, there is room for improvement. Out of 634 members, only 11 are from BME groups.

The report admits: "The demographic profile of our members does not reflect the diversity of the communities we serve." To this end, it has created networks for women and BME members.

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