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Supported by The Co‑operative Bank

There’s arsenic in the sugar – and inequality in our tech

Blog post

Rose Marley
Written by
Rose Marley
23rd March 2021
Business planning
The Rochdale principles written on a blackboard

The prolific adulteration of foodstuffs was common practice in 19th century Britain and although the arsenic was accidental it was commonplace to find grit in the oatmeal, dirt in the cocoa and chalk in the flour!

Coupled with poor worker rights, an economic downturn with a devastating impact on weavers and the ongoing disruption of the industrial revolution, provided the catalyst for 28 men to pool resources in the interests of forging a fairer future. As we know these 'Rochdale Pioneers' contributed £1 each to lay the foundations of what would become our modern day, worldwide co‑operative movement.

The Pioneers' well‑documented solution to the problems of their times began with the opening of a shop on Toad Lane, Rochdale. Aiming to sell better quality foods and creating a set of principles and values for co‑operation, to this day these codes of practice are used globally by three million co‑ops.

Quote mark
There are so many innovations for sustainable change being delivered by co‑operators throughout the world. But who are today's digital pioneers? Where is 2021's technological Toad Lane?
– Rose Marley, CEO, Co‑operatives UK

In 2021 we’re on the cusp of a tech revolution and we are faced with a plethora of challenges – from food poverty and climate change, to digital streaming, poor care provision and the exploitation of workers.

There are so many innovations for sustainable change being delivered by co‑operators throughout the world. But who are today's digital pioneers? Where is 2021's technological Toad Lane?

Some of the most promising solutions are presenting themselves as ‘platform co‑operatives’.

One example is Equal Care Co‑op, a multi stakeholder co‑op which works to ensure that care workers secure the pay and conditions they deserve and the clients the good quality care they need. The team at Equal Care Co‑op successfully raised £400,000 to develop the platform through community shares, a type of democratic finance unique to co‑ops. 

Another example, the Open Food Network, a co‑op which has experienced considerable growth during the pandemic, provides an online platform solution for an offline community of farmers working together to create a sustainable future.

Will the emerging Kandoroo co-op resolve food poverty?

Will Signalise transform interpreting services for deaf people on a global scale? The potential of these platform co‑ops who are building their solutions and number of members now have the potential to make a significant impact on the world.

At Co‑operatives UK we are anticipating an exponential growth of these 'new‑look' , multi‑stakeholder co‑operatives. We believe they are well placed to tackle some of society's new and emerging problems. Just as the Rochdale Pioneers faced issues around food supply – we're asking – what's the digital arsenic in the sugar? What are today's challenges that require a tech innovation based on proven co‑operative principles?

So my questions are...

Can you see an opportunity to use a digital platform or tech solution to tackle a problem? Have you identified a group of people who believe your solution will solve their need?

If your answer is YES then that is all you need to join the new Co‑operatives UK tech accelerator. You don’t need to be a coder or in any way experienced in tech and you don’t need to be an existing business already.

You do need to be able to demonstrate a clear focus on the problem you want to solve and how you propose to solve it using a co‑operative platform. You do need to demonstrate a passion to create options to rival Uber and answers to Amazon abundance and you do need to be committed to fair and equitable trading through the distribution of power and wealth.

If this sounds like you, find out how you could pioneer for a fairer future at

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