The Co-operative Wholesale Society made their first deputation to Sierra Leone, West Africa in 1913.  For the CWS, the purpose of deputations was to investigate potential business interests overseas.  The CWS had always looked to expand its business outside of the UK and had depots, factories and plantations across the world.  A year before the trip; business rivals Lever Brothers had commenced business in Sierra Leone, motivating CWS to expand their business in the area.

Another driving factor for the CWS expanding into many different business areas was a ‘do it yourself’ attitude.  For example;  shortly after opening a  jam factory in Middleton, land was purchased to farm fruit to supply the factory, rather than purchase from another business.   

Percy Redfern (CWS employee and writer of two volumes of the organisation’s history), says that this was the purpose of the West Africa deputation - to build a factory to process palm oil.  Although this is a controversial issue today, at the time palm oil was widely used in a range of food and household products such as soap.   At the time Sierra Leone was still under British rule which meant that the CWS was able to obtain a concession of 314 square miles to build the factory. This concession also meant that no other factories could be built within a ten-mile radius.

On the deputation were CWS directors George Thorpe,  William Lander and Joseph English, as well as J.E Green, senior manager from Irlam Soap Works.  They sailed from Liverpool to Freetown on the 15th of October 1913.  Also with them was Mr. A R Richards who was to become the CWS representative in West Africa.

According to Redfern; even before they departed for Sierra Leone the four men were clear that they did not want to encroach on the land of local people in Masungbo  and made efforts to reassure the community at a meeting of around a thousand people with the tribal chief in attendance.  

These images are taken from a photograph album the Archive holds documenting the deputation, starting from the journey from Liverpool to their meeting with the local people and showing the factory that CWS went on to build.

CWS later became known as the Co-operative Group: For further information on the Co-op’s stance on using palm oil today, please see their blog post:  https://blog.coop.co.uk/2018/07/03/your-top-palm-oil-questions-answered/