29 September 2008 | Andy Allen
Supplier assessments caried out by The Co-operative Group (Co-op) have uncovered examples of exploited labour and health and safety problems.
In its 2007-08 Sustainability Report, the group said it carried out more than 190 assessments of suppliers to Co-operative Foods last year - out of a total of 2,500 suppliers.
The assessments led to 1,371 calls for improvements, 940 of which were due to workplace health and safety issues. A further 129 instances were found of of excessive working hours and low pay. Exploitation of labour and child labour accounted for 13 and 11 cases respectively. As part of improvements, suppliers must provide evidence of how they have addressed problems.
It is the Co-op's most detailed information yet on sustainability and supplier relationships, and follows a consultation with members this year which revealed that ethical trading was their most important concern.
Laura Vickery, group international development manager, said its policy is to try to improve suppliers' behaviour rather than de-list them.
Co-op Financial Services, however, excluded one firm from a tender for fleet management services because its parent company supplied military aircraft engines to regimes classified as oppressive.
While nearly 80 more assessments had been carried out in 2006 than in 2007, Vickery said this was because the group was making more use of Sedex (Suppliers Ethical Data Exchange), a database on labour practices in the supply chain.
During 2007 the Co-operative Bank and Insurance declined to work with 11 organisations and turned down £1.9 million of income because of firms' connections with arms suppliers or other human rights concerns.