Speaker Notes: People’s Power in the Workplace

At Suma, we’re proud to say that we work within the UK’s largest worker-owned cooperative, and continuing its tradition as a successful business. We are owned, managed, and run by us – our members.

We’ve built ourselves from the ground – Back in the 1970’s, a man started dealing wholefoods around the north of England – one man with a passion. That business was sold to six like-minded individuals and from 1977, Suma has retained this same passion – but now it’s collective.

On paper it shouldn’t work – nearly 200 members feeding into every workplace decision in various methods from email debates to annual meetings. It shouldn’t work. But for us, it does. We’re growing sales 10% year on year for the last 5 years; increasing our workforce by recruiting every 6 months, and honouring our work with a 5% pay rise annually.

For example, recently we were undergoing a long term project that some members felt had come to a stall and were unhappy with its progress. A group got together and discussed the opinions and called an EGM (20 signatures are required within our constitutional rules). They discussed their points, looked at the options, benefits and risks to the cooperative. A majority of members chose to support them and the project ceases progression. This is a perfect example where us, the members, can shape what is happening within our business, and if we’re not happy with it, we have the opportunity to do something about it. We have the chance to have our voices heard – as individuals.

I feel like there’s no other type of business that could allow for the level of people’s power within a working environment. As we all have an equal voice, and an equal share, anyone can bring an idea, criticism or opinion to the forefront of members minds. It’s our business, and we’re the only ones responsible for its upkeep and maintenance. We’re the only ones who have the chance to change something for the better within Suma. This is, what I feel, really helps workers strive for success.

What is success to us though? Our mission statement is “To provide a high quality service to customers and a rewarding working environment for the members, within a sustainable, ethical, Co-operative business structure”. We see success as hitting these factors – creating a sustainable business, with strong ethical values and creating a rewarding, positive place to work, and not necessarily aiming for the highest amount of profit available.
What we’re doing now is not necessarily for us, it’s for those who follow us in years to come – we strive for Suma to be known not just tomorrow, or next year, but in the next 40 years and hopefully longer than that.

Sheree Hatton

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