Former Co-op boss Richard Pennycook has urged retail leaders to do more to shed the “toxic” reputation the industry has developed among consumers.

Pennycook, who saved the Co-op from collapse during his four years with the mutual before departing earlier this year, said retail bosses should be thinking more about the issue of “mistrust with business”.

The new Fenwick chairman used the British Retail Consortium’s annual lecture to issue a rallying cry to an audience of high-profile retailers, including the likes of Boots boss Elizabeth Fagan and DFS chief executive Ian Filby.

Pennycook said: “We all get up in the morning wanting to do a good job, for our colleagues, customers and shareholders. I suspect for most of us, self-esteem is quite important.

“So we really should be concerned that our customers rank us below bankers in terms of trustworthiness, and only a shade above estate agents and politicians.

“We can either pretend that it’s an issue about Philip Green and Mike Ashley, or we can recognise that it’s an issue for all of us.”


Pennycook added that retailers should “talk about the right things in our communities and with government”, in particular highlighting the gig economy, retail taxation and a “breakdown” between business and consumers over pricing promises, as areas to address.

He said: “Will we talk about the wrong things, or the right things?

“As representatives of the business community, we have an obligation to lead the agenda for better governance and the restoration of trust in business.

“The alternative is for us to free-ride on the work of others, or collectively to ignore the mood of our customers.

“Where we see working practices that we can exploit for a bit of competitive gain, despite knowing in our gut that they are wrong, we should call it out.

“We need to be better and more authoritative at going to government and asking for legislation to level the playing field when things are happening that just ain’t right.”