The UK’s flagship worker co-op, Suma was founded 40 years ago when seven people formed a wholefood wholesaler in West Yorkshire. Today, the business is thriving with 260 employees, a large export team and the 2017 Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the International Trade category, the latest in a raft of accolades under its belt.
Crucially, it is still 100 per cent owned by its workers, providing equal pay to all, regardless of the jobs they do. That’s ‘jobs’ plural. Workers at Suma multi-skill, the person taking sales orders on a Monday could be preparing lunch in the canteen on a Tuesday.
"Co-operation is more than just a business model; it’s an ethos that encourages us to think less about what we can get for ourselves and more about what we can achieve if we join together." Suma worker-owner Amrit
Suma member Emma Robinson thinks this approach gives everyone an overview of how things operate so they can fully participate in democratically managing the business. She said: "Being a worker co-operative has always been a central part of our identity, and we believe this way of working has been the key to our success over the years."
To mark its 40th anniversary, Suma is investing to build co-operation further into its supply chain. The worker co-operative is funding new equipment for the co-op in Peru that produces Suma Fairtrade coffee; it is investing in the co-operative eco-factory in Italy responsible for making Suma’s organic pasta; and closer to home, is working with a local craft brewer to produce a special 40th birthday ale – aptly named Strength in Numbers.
Suma member Amrit, who is planning Suma’s partnership with a local school to help them set up a veg growing initiative, said: "Partnerships like this help us to show that co-operation is more than just a business model; it’s an ethos that encourages us to think less about what we can get for ourselves and more about what we can achieve if we join together."
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