What's fresh

The role of the responsible retailer in today’s society

I was very much looking forward to hearing Justin King (Sainsburys’ CEO) talk at the British Retail Consortium’s 3rd Annual Lecture in London last week – and I was not to be disappointed.

Highlighting the recent expectations of businesses from the ‘Big Society’ incentive, I was interested to hear King’s view on how retailers have (more than any other industry) always understood responsibility.

Let’s start by putting things in perspective. The British Retail Consortium outlines that;

• In 2010, UK retail sales reached £293 billion

• Retail employs 2.9 million people in the UK (end 2009)

• One third of consumer spending goes through our stores

Pretty impressive stuff! By drawing parallels with the ‘Big Society’, King gave an insight into some of the ways the retail industry has the community in mind, and was quick to point out examples of responsible retailers (and Sainsbury’s in particular) in action.

• Improve skills and create jobs

(“No other industry can boast such access to work, and there is still the potential for lifelong careers that are motivating and engaging”)

• Support SMEs and responsible sourcing

(“Traceability, Grocery Supply Code of Practice, Ethical Trading Initiative, Dairy Development Group, The Woodland Egg Development Group…”)

• Reduce carbon and protect the environment

(“This year we will be carbon footprinting beef, lamb, pig and poultry farms to help them reduce their energy costs and carbon footprint..”)

• Improve quality of life

(e.g.“Making healthy eating easier; the traffic-light system has brought the issue to the attention of consumers”)

• Support the local community

(e.g.“Addressing social harm – The Retail & Community Alcohol Partnership’s ‘Challenge 25 incentive’”)

Retailers, then, are onto a good thing when it comes to attracting up-and-coming talent. As part of FreshMinds’ innovative talent sourcing initiative, Ones To Watch, which selects the top 100 graduates each year, Corporate Social Responsibility is cited amongst their top three criteria when entering the job market.

However, it cannot be ignored that whilst the consumer economy remaining fragile, supermarkets are becoming more and more like mini-villages catering for all our shopping needs whilst at the same time throwing loyalty points at us. I can’t help but wonder whether such corporate responsibility programmes are simply a reactive solution to external pressures to improve firms’ reputations, rather than having true shared values at heart?

Emily Gasche is a consultant on the FreshMinds Talent Graduate team