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dublin | consumer issues | opinion/analysis Monday September 12, 2011 15:58 by Dave Moore davecorcra at yahoo dot ie
Exactly six months ago today, the board of directors of Dublin Food Co-op received a written complaint of ‘physical assault’ and ‘violently aggressive behaviour’ on its premises. Most of them seem to have been running away from it ever since.
After three months had passed with no process or resolution in sight, a members’ meeting (OGM) on 23 June sought to press the board to organise an independent investigation by passing the following motion:
“We entrust the CB [board] to implement the decision at the last Annual General Meeting (AGM) to draft the policy on anti-bullying, response to violence, duty of care to volunteers, and a code of conduct for members. The meeting recommends the CB bring in a mediator to investigate the complaints made regarding violence in the Co-op and effect a resolution of these issues. This was agreed within an overall time frame up to the next Ordinary General Meeting (OGM) on or before 30 September 2011, but that the actions required are implemented immediately.”
Yet, fully half a year after the original complaint and nearly three months on from this motion, no such action has been taken. The only movement has been a further exodus of active members.
To fully comprehend how this could happen in a co-operative environment, it is necessary to understand the Co-op’s profound internal tensions and chronic dysfunctionality, both of which are too extensive to labour here.
However, some of the details in this instance are straightforward:
On 12th March, five Co-op members lodged a complaint which reported the use of violence on the Newmarket premises directed toward the then Chairperson by a stallholder, followed by further aggressive and threatening behaviour directed toward another member by the same individual after she sought to calm the situation. Two of the complainants (neither of them the chairperson) were writing as direct witnesses of the day’s events, the other three added their names in support. Further complaints were lodged in the days following by others who learnt of the reported incident.
Contrary to expectations and all normal practice for such a serious allegation, suspension of the accused party pending investigation was never meaningfully pursued. The stallholder quickly resumed trading as normal, apparently invited to do so by a director, a move which served to actively undermine the very limited investigation process that had been initiated by a weak and divided board, one expected to operate by consensus yet utterly lacking in policies and procedures.
Beyond the initial acknowledgements, those who first raised complaints have been treated to five months of deafening silence. Even the intervention of June’s membership meeting, with its motion urging the directors to act without delay, appears to have come to nought.
A SAD DAY
In the days after 12th March last, I listened closely to the accounts of three witnesses as to what happened before the start of trading that morning. I was left with no doubt that two of them had faced utterly unacceptable, aggressive behaviour and, further, that the then chairperson had sustained bruised ribs and was in ongoing pain from the incident. The third witness corroborated all the essential details they set out. Despite both of them reporting the incident to the Gardai shortly thereafter, they had clear hope that the Co-op could achieve an internal resolution, rather than seeking for charges to be pressed.
The hope they placed in the Co-op seems wildly misplaced, today - an anniversary that merits no celebration.
Note: As the Co-op’s board have not issued any minutes or communications to the membership since the 23 June OGM, this article represents the first time the above motion has been made available to several hundred members who did not attend the meeting at which it was approved.
About the Author: Dave Moore volunteered as Dublin Food Co-op’s web and eNewsletter editor, undertook membership administration and served on its Products Working Group until resigning all duties in April 2011, citing the unacceptable handling of the above complaint and wider harassment issues. He is now focused on other projects toward building alternative local food systems and can be reached via davecorcra [at] yahoo.ie