Unicorn is a values-driven business, which sees success as something more than figures on a balance sheet. If we are providing a decent livelihood for our staff and our suppliers, if we are increasing the amount of land farmed sustainably and improving the environmental impact of our diet, if we are enabling good health through good food, if we are creating community wealth rather than shareholder wealth, if we are challenging traditional models of business ownership and control…then we are succeeding.
Principles of Purpose
Unicorn was established on the foundations of five ‘Principles of Purpose’, which continue to drive and inform everything we do…
We aim to provide secure employment for our members. We seek above all to provide a livelihood for ourselves with some control over our working environment. We accept the responsibilities and rewards of this challenge.
We believe that all should have an equal opportunity to undertake paid work. Ignorance and prejudice should not be an obstacle to this. The ability to carry out a minimum of 20 hours useful work per week entitles a worker to apply for membership. The respect and income derived from a job are important to many people in our society which is one which values paid work highly.
Wholesome Healthy Consumption
We aim to trade in wholesome foodstuffs and household goods of non-animal origin. We focus on foods which have undergone minimal processing. Specific product guidelines include the avoidance of animal derivatives, and where feasible, refined sugar and high levels of added salt. We strive to sell products of organic standard and maximum nutritional value whenever we can find or generate a market. Provision of educational materials help in this aim.
Fair and Sustainable Trade
We aim to trade in a manner which supports a sustainable world environment and economy. We trade preferentially in products which follow the “Fair Trade” ethos and we communicate with our customers about the problems with cash crop agriculture. We are concerned that much of world trade is to the disadvantage of poorer nations with a consequence for people’s health and lives. We operate a fund from which to support projects addressing and challenging this imbalance. 4% of our wage costs are contributed to this fund. We trade in products which produce minimum impact on the environment and we make decisions about our packaging with this also in mind.
Solidarity in Co-operation
We aim to support like minded ventures, co-operatives or otherwise. We acknowledge both competition and co-operation as fundamental to human nature. We seek to encourage co-operation by operating a fund to support projects which share our vision of community and society in the United Kingdom. 1% of our wage costs are contributed to this fund. We promote co-operative structures and spirit through all our trading, social and educational activities.
We are a workers’ co-operative, which means the shop is owned, controlled and run by the staff members you see on the shop floor…
Owning a co-operative business is different. We don’t buy our way in, and we don’t have anything to sell when we leave. Ownership comes hand in hand with being accepted as a co-op member, but it doesn’t mean Unicorn is ours to do what we like with! It endows us with the responsibility to act as ‘stewards’ or ‘caretakers’ of the business; appreciating the decades of hard graft, skill and accumulated knowledge that have come before us, and making decisions (always guided by Unicorn’s Principles) that we believe are best for the co-op as a whole, now and in the future.
Whilst we aim to create a sustainable livelihood for ourselves, we can’t use the business to pursue personal wealth. Instead, what co-op membership returns to us is a deep sense of care for our work, an unusual sense of comradeship, equity and trust between colleagues, an incentive to take initiative and use our skills to develop the business, and an enormous amount of pride.
Co-ops are democratic; we all have a voice in how the business is run. That’s not to say we all discuss everything! Operational decisions are devolved to teams, much like in a traditional business. The difference being that each team makes its decisions by consensus, within a pretty flat management structure. The absence of a formal hierarchy in our structure requires a high degree of self-management from members, as well as the ability to “manage” each other. This isn’t always easy! It also often involves knowing what we don’t know…decisions should only be taken with a real understanding of their commercial or ethical impact, so it’s vital to be able to step back or ask for help.
At Unicorn, all members (currently numbering around 60) are company directors, which means we’re all legally responsible for Unicorn and its long-term direction and wellbeing. In common with other areas of the business, strategic planning is co-ordinated by a small team. This work is based the input and energy of all parts of the business, and the business plans produced, along with any other strategic decisions, must receive consent from the whole membership. This way, we are able to make strong, well-founded decisions upheld by a unified and active membership.
A diverse range of skills is vital in any co-operative, and we know that the insight and energy of a new recruit is as valuable as the experience gained from long service. By offering a flat rate of pay, we encourage an equal sense of ownership and worth in all members.
As well as co-op members, we also employ a small pool of casual staff who fit their work at Unicorn around other commitments…or use it as a way of trying us out! Over half the current co-op membership joined Unicorn this way. Casual workers are paid 80% of members’ hourly rate, or the Living Wage Foundation’s ‘Real Living Wage‘, whichever is higher.
We are always happy to give advice, answer questions, or arrange visits for people to learn more about how we work. For more information, contact email@example.com.
Workers.Coop: Liberating our work
Unicorn members have also been really involved in helping set up workers.coop, the new federation of worker cooperatives.
We come together as workers.coop to build a more equitable and sustainable world. We value collaboration, solidarity and care for each other, our communities, and our planet. Together we can make work decent, and empower people to shape their own destiny.
How We Source
Unicorn sells most of the types of things you’d expect to find in a medium-sized supermarket, but we source our produce a little differently. We aim to trade in a way that is less exploitative of people, animals and the earth, whilst maintaining a product range that is accessible to the diverse community we serve. This is a continual balancing act!….
Each year, we set aside an amount equal to 5% of our total wage bill to support local and international projects that share our hope for a more just and sustainable world…
We choose to base the funds on our wage bill rather than as a percentage of our profit, because we view it as a core commitment – we account for it as a business cost, before calculating profit. This calculation best reflects our growth as a business, and means if and when co-op staff get better off (as wages increase), so do the projects we support.
The total is split into two separate parts, the 1% and 4% funds.
Unicorn’s 1% fund: In solidarity with the community of grassroots UK initiatives who share our hope for a more just and sustainable world. In practice, this vision encompasses all sorts of things from racial justice in the food system, other worker co-ops, environmental activism, refugee and asylum seeker solidarity and community growing schemes….or a combination of those things, like the following:
Growing Together is a small Manchester charity which runs therapeutic horticulture sessions for refugees and people seeking asylum. The project is based on a community allotment run on vegan organic principles.
Unicorn’s 4% fund: In solidarity with communities around the world who share our hope for a more just and sustainable world. This fund focuses on the Global South, and supports projects addressing poverty and the inequitable impacts of world trade, extractive industries and unsustainable agriculture. We prioritise small to medium-scale organisations, particularly those that are ‘bottom-up’ – i.e. led by the communities in which they operate. Increasingly, we are developing long-term links with these projects, here are a few…
Established in 2002, Soil for Life is a non-profit company that assists Township communities in the Western Cape in South Africa to overcome hunger and poverty through the establishment of food gardens.
Burma’s Network for Environment and Economic Development was established against the backdrop of the military regime’s repressive governance directed against ethnic minorities. NEED aims to work with people across all ethnic groups to build a stronger civil society that empowers rural communities to develop sustainable futures.
Set up by a couple from the Chikukwa region, PORET is a community demonstration centre for sustainable food growing methods. They also run a pre-school for two to five years olds, which includes a food garden for the thirty or so kids who travel there each day.
Unicorn is a Fair Tax Mark business, which means we’ve been independently verified as paying our fair share of corporation tax and reporting on it transparently…
It seems crazy that this mark should have to exist, and we certainly hope you wouldn’t need it to know we’re not tax shirkers! But we are really keen to support the Mark and promote its adoption more widely.
Corporate tax avoidance has become an art form, with tax havens, artificial structures and ‘clever’ accounting allowing companies to avoid paying millions in tax. These corporations inflate their profits whilst robbing the public of vitally needed funds. Where you see the Fair Tax Mark, you know that a company is open and transparent about its tax affairs and seeks to pay the right amount of corporation tax. The Mark aims to offer businesses that know they are good taxpayers the opportunity to display this.
To see our policy on paying tax, click here.
Real Living Wage
We’ve been paying all staff above the Real Living Wage for many years, and were accredited as a Real Living Wage Employer in 2019….
The Real Living Wage is calculated each year by the independent Living Wage Foundation and is based on actual living costs…what people need to get by. We are super happy to be part of a movement that puts upward pressure on wages (and has led to the government introducing a higher minimum wage for over 23’s), especially in traditionally low-paid sectors like retail and cleaning. Many other co-operatives are also accredited.
We’re not big believers in carbon offsetting as a solution to climate change, but when it comes down to it, more trees are always a good thing. So since our founding we’ve supported the restoration of the great Caledonian Forest in Scotland…
Instead of carbon-offsetting, it’s the core activities of a business that need to become sustainable, and that’s what we focus on. Having said that, even the best-intentioned business still has a considerable carbon footprint, so we make a “carbon tax” contribution to the work of Scottish charity Trees for Life, working to restore 600 square miles of the Caledonian Forest.
The great forest of Caledon used to cover much of upland Scotland, as a vast primeval wilderness of Scots pine, birch, rowan, aspen and juniper. Land clearance for timber and the widespread introduction of sheep have seen this forest decline almost to the point of no return. Much of the Highlands of Scotland is a deforested “wet desert”, rather than the unspoilt wilderness we imagine.
Trees for Life is working to restore the Caledonian Forest to a large contiguous area in the Highlands, linking up some of the best of the remnants, and aiming eventually to reintroduce the missing species of wildlife when enough habitat has been restored to support them.
Their vision is to restore a wild forest, which is there for its own sake, as a home for wildlife and to fulfil the ecological functions necessary for the wellbeing of the land itself. Trees for Life is unique in being the only organisation working specifically towards this end. Volunteers from all backgrounds work at their base in Dundreggan to collect seeds from local trees and raise them in the tree nursery. They then plant them in carefully protected sites where they cannot be damaged by deer. Irregular spacing helps to avoid the straight lines of plantations so the trees grow naturally across the landscape. Over the years, these trees will transform open hillsides into forest, rich in wildlife and protected for future generations. As this land will be forest into perpetuity we see it as a way of soaking up some of the carbon dioxide we generate as a business.
The top of our building is home to an 825 square metre ‘living roof’, providing pond and meadow-like habitat for wildflowers, damselflies and many more species….
The roof is also home to a 3.2KW solar thermal array contributing to our building’s hot water requirements. Top quality insulation and windows minimise heat loss, while a separate set of solar PV panels decrease electricity use. In 2022 we generated 8220 kWh!
We’re known for our selection of loose fresh produce and minimally packaged dry goods. We also offer an ever-increasing range of re-usable options, but we know this isn’t feasible for all products or for every type of purchase. Like many of you, we wish there was a solution for doing away with all disposable packaging!…