Co-operative to encourage election of women to boards in new diversity targets

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The Co-operative has underlined its ambition to become the UK’s most representative large business in terms of diversity and governance by setting itself exacting targets for the next five years.

The Co-operative said it will encourage the election of more women to its main boards of directors and seek to ensure its democratically elected area committees are more representative of the communities they serve across the length and breadth of the UK.

The country’s largest mutual has always been owned and democratically controlled by its members, who elect representatives to govern via 48 area committees, seven regional boards and ultimately the group board. According to the retailer, the move marks the beginning of a new concerted push to ensure these bodies are more representative of the UK population. 

As part of its newly released Ethical Plan, it has committed to ensuring 40% of the Co-operative Group and Bank boards will be made up of women by 2018. This target goes well beyond that recommended for FTSE100 companies to reach 25% by 2015, said the retailer. Indeed, The Co-operative’s main board has been 25% female since 2011.

The Co-operative, with interest in Food, Pharmacy, Funeralcare, Legal and Online Electrical, as well as The Co-operative Bank and The Co-operative Insurance, also said the composition of its 48 area committees that are an integral part of the Group’s democracy will become more representative of the communities in which they operate.

By 2014 the membership of the elected area committees, which enable members to have a say in the running of the business, will aim to be consistent with 50% of that proportion of the UK population that are carers, disabled, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and by 2016 will be consistent with 75% of the proportion of the population that are from ethnic minorities.

Group chair Len Wardle said: “We want to be the most socially responsible business in the UK and our latest Ethical Plan sets out our intention to improve the diversity of our governance structures.  

“These are difficult targets and we have far to go, but our businesses operates in communities across the UK so it is essential that we work even harder to ensure that our governance structure represents them.”

Other highlights from the revised Ethical Plan include:

  • Stores and branches will act as a focus for 12,000 community initiatives per annum and we will continue to be socially inclusive, maintaining a physical presence in every postal area in the UK
  • The Co-operative will provide an additional £1m of support to co-operative enterprise in 2013, and will maintain its £500,000 Community Shares Fund
  • Having achieved a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from our operations since 2006, it will increase this to 50% by 2020
  • Having facilitated over 40,000 loans by the end of 2012, The Co-operative will grow its partnership with lendwithcare.org further in order to facilitate 100,000 loans to entrepreneurs in the developing world by the end of 2013
  • It will continue to show the greatest commitment to Fairtrade in the UK, remaining second to none in terms of availability and overtrade. It is on track to meet its target that if a primary commodity from the developing world can be Fairtrade, it will be Fairtrade by the end of this year