Sector Special: Fair Tax Mark meets co-operative member motives 


In this series for the Fair Tax Foundation, our accredited organisations tell us how the Fair Tax Mark has helped open opportunities or overcome challenges specific to their sector. Here, Suma’s Andy Hunter-Rossall, Scotmid’s Craig Strachan, Ethical Consumer’s Rob Harrison and Unicorn Grocery’s Debbie Clarke explore co-operatives. 

Owned by their members to meet their shared needs, co-operatives are built around values and can be held to a high standard when it comes to operating ethically.  

For Co-op Fortnight we’ve delved into the sector as part of our Sector Special series to explore how paying a fair share of tax can help these businesses thrive.  

The UK’s 7,586 independent co-ops employ 249,142 people, according to Co-operatives UK, with nearly 13.4 million memberships. They span industries and contribute more than £40bn to the UK economy. 

UK co-operatives and social enterprises were early pioneers of the Fair Tax Mark following its launch in 2014. The Midcounties Co-op, the Phone Co-op and Unity Trust Bank were among the first businesses in the UK to be awarded the Fair Tax Mark, viewing it as an area in which the sector could lead – as per Fairtrade. As at September 2023 there were some 50 distinct trading brands across the UK co-operative and mutual sector that hold the Fair Tax Mark. 

For Andy Hunter-Rossall, Suma board and finance team member, the Fair Tax Mark aligns with the values of a co-operative.  

“Suma has values of democracy, equality and solidarity at the core of everything we do. That goes for how we treat our workers, and it also goes for how we pay our taxes,” he said. 

“We’re proud to contribute our fair share to the public services on which our business and our workers depend, and we wear our Fair Tax Mark accreditation as a badge of honour.” 

Suma Wholefoods were founded in 1977 and deliver vegetarian, natural, responsibly sourced products to businesses and communities across the UK and internationally.    

Craig Strachan, CFO of accredited retailer Scotmid, also said the Fair Tax Mark aligns well with the values and operational goals of co-operatives, and can even help engage members, which can sometimes be a challenge.

This tallies with the findings from our latest polling, which revealed 70% of the UK public would rather work at or shop with a business that demonstrated they pay their fair share of tax.  

‘Back that trust up’

Trust and transparency are other areas where co-operative businesses are held to a high standard by members and customers.  

“To have credibility it is important for us to meet the highest tax transparency standards as a business,” commented Rob Harrison, Ethical Consumer director. 

Ethical Consumer are a leading consumer magazine, helping shoppers navigate ethical purchasing since 1989. 

Unicorn Grocery’s Debbie Clarke agrees. “Our customers know we’re a workers’ co-op and that social and economic justice is at the heart of what we do, there’s a lot of trust there.  

“But we also think it’s important to back that trust up with really tangible, verifiable actions.” 

Unicorn Grocery were first accredited in 2016 and sell wholesome and affordable products in Manchester.   

Clarke concluded: “Having the Fair Tax Mark is another way to demonstrate that we put our money where our mouth is!”  

 

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