The founder of retail giant Migros, Gottlieb Duttweiler, believed that businesses should not only focus on profit but also the social good. That is why he banned alcohol and tobacco sale in Migros because he did not want cheap prices to create alcohol problems, including addiction, in society.
Migros is Switzerland’s largest retail company, its largest supermarket chain and largest employer, according to Wikipedia. It is also one of the forty largest retailers in the world. Migros is structured in the form of a cooperative federation (the Federation of Migros Cooperatives), with more than two million members.
Since Migros’ founding in 1925, Duttweiler’s principles have been slowly eroded over time. As early as 1999 Migros delegates decided to allow the sale of alcohol in the restaurants of the golf clubs and leisure facilities of the cooperative. Currently, alcohol is available for sale in Migros subsidiaries Denner and Migrolino, Migros online shop leshop.ch, the Migrol filling stations and the partner shops VOI. Only the main branches of Migros have retained their founder’s principle and message and remained free of alcohol.
Now, even the main Migros branches are mulling plans that would lead to increasing alcohol availability and rising harms. Last week on November 6, 2021, a two-thirds majority of the Migros delegates voted in favor of allowing the sale of alcohol in Migros main branches. Now, the last wall between breaking the Migros statute and going against a century long tradition of prioritizing the people instead of profits lies with the 2.2 million Migros cooperatives.
Next, the 10 regional cooperatives will make a decision regarding whether to break the principle of not contributing to alcohol harm in society by keeping Migros alcohol-free. From December, the administration and cooperative councils of the ten regional Migros cooperatives will decide on whether or not to introduce alcohol sales. At least two thirds of the respective bodies must also agree there. If this happens, the cooperatives in that region can decide in a referendum on jeopardizing a founding principle of Migros and starting alcohol sales. The ballots will be open in until June, 4, 2022.
Ultimately the question is one of profit vs. social responsibility. Experts predict an increase in sales of 1.5 to 2 billion francs if the ban is lifted. However, if alcohol sale is allowed, Migros risks losing the reputation of being a large socially responsible company.
People with alcohol problems will suffer the most
An estimated 250,000 to 300,000 people in Switzerland have an alcohol use problem or are in recovery from an alcohol use disorder. For these people Migros was a safe haven for carefree shopping. If Migros allows the sale of alcohol these people will have no safe spaces to shop.
For people in recovery seeing alcohol on supermarket shelves can be a trigger. When there are triggers constantly around, it becomes harder for people to maintain sobriety.
If you have developed an addiction, then a stimulus of an addictive substance repeatedly triggers. And if you walk past it, it is all the more difficult to resist,” said Domenic Schnoz, head of the Zurich Department for the Prevention of Narcotic Drug Abuse (ZFPS), as per SRF.
[Migros] has given greater weight to their social responsibility than the competition. Therefore, it is very regrettable that this is now going in a different direction.”
Domenic Schnoz, head of Zurich Department for the Prevention of Narcotic Drug Abuse (ZFPS)
National Councilor Lilian Studer who is President of the Evangelical People’s Party of Switzerland (EVP) questions why Migros needs to allow alcohol sales in the main branches. After all the subsidiaries, the online shop and petrol station shops already sell alcohol. She also stresses the negative effect this will have on people with alcohol problems, saying that the preliminary decision to lift the alcohol sales ban was fatal.
The Blue Cross, an NGO providing addiction support, is appealing to the ten Migros cooperatives to now take responsibility and respect the proven principle of Migros founder Gottlieb Duttweiler. They are worried that people with alcohol problems and young people will pay the highest price if Migros decides to prioritize profits over social good.
The Blue Cross appeals to the 10 regional Migros cooperatives to maintain their social responsibility tradition and thus send a signal in the sense of Migros founder Gottlieb Duttweiler. He believed that companies should not be satisfied with making money only. Rather, they should “serve for the good”.
Duttweiler’s message is up-to-date and exemplary, and not only with regard to alcohol,” said Philipp Hadorn, President of the Blue Cross Switzerland, as per their website.
Philipp Hadorn, President, Blue Cross Switzerland
Movendi International has also responded. International President Kristina Sperkova underlined the importance of alcohol-free Migros for the social good.
When more stakeholders take responsibility for the common good through alcohol prevention, people, communities and society fare better. That’s why alcohol-free Migros stores are so important. They don’t normalize alcohol. They don’t increase alcohol availability. They protect children and youth.
But that is also why we are concerned that Migros is now considering a reversal of their social responsibility approach. Making alcohol even more available means fueling alcohol harm. Alcohol-free Migros shops are a social good that is more important than ever.”
Berner Zeitung: “Migros delegates clear the way for alcohol sales” [Translated from German]
SRF: “As a dry alcoholic, shopping is a spit rod run” [Translated from German]
Blick: ““For people with alcohol problems, this is fatal”” [Translated from German]
The Blue Cross: “Media release: Now the responsibility lies with the Migros cooperatives” [Translated from German]