22 April 2015
The Cooperative Group board’s nomination of three members for three of its open seats to join its board, has sparked an uproar, raising the question of whether it is against the cooperative’s ethics or best practice.
The Coop Group’s member council put forward six candidates to sit on the board as member nominated directors (MNDs), however the board chose to keep only three candidates to stand for election.
Members, previous Cooperative Group executives and the rejected candidates have voiced their disapproval of this move, which they believe goes against the cooperative model of the business.
Dame Pauline Green was one of the six candidates put forward by the member council, only to be dropped by the board. In an article written for the Cooperative News, she said that the ‘election process is already flawed’ and in refusing to give ‘serious consideration to the wishes of the member council … in a stroke destroyed all the trust and confidence that might have been built in the coming weeks and months’.
Sir Graham Melmoth, previous chair of the Group said it is members’ rights to elect as their representatives ‘ordinary’ co-operators in good standing, nominated in good faith’, which is something that should not be tampered with. He added that the Group’s current actions do ‘not seem like any co-operative principle I am familiar with’.
Allan Leighton, current Chair of the Cooperative Group, also wrote an article in the Cooperative News, countering accusations of being undemocratic and uncooperative, has said that ‘three high-calibre candidates have emerged … [that have been] selected because they are fit for purpose … [and not] so three slots could be conveniently filled as described by others’.
He added that it is about finding members with a new way of thinking ‘to help propel [the] business forward’, and had there been two or four capable, for example, only those would have been selected.
ICSA Policy and Research Director Peter Swabey however commented that this is one situation in which the Cooperative Group’s members could not win: ‘This is part of the culture clash between the model used by most companies where a nomination committee selects those who the board recommend join it, and the mutual model where anyone can stand as a candidate.’
Swabey added this seems to be compromise between the two practices, which he believes was a well-meaning one, but it ‘has had the effect of pleasing no-one’.