In our globalizing world inequality is on the rise
The global income gap has continued to widen over the past years. A recent Credit Suisse report estimates that the top 1 percent of the globe’s population possesses nearly half of the world’s wealth, whereas the bottom half of world’s population holds less than 1 percent of its riches.
But inequality comes in a variety of shades. It can apply to ethnic, regional or locational characteristics, or personal features such as gender or age.
Preceding equal voting rights for men and women, gender equality has been a fundamental right in co-operatives, since their inception in the first half of the 19th century. Co-operatives’ typically flat hierarchy encourages a culture of teamwork, where talent is rewarded rather than competitiveness.
How inequality affects us all
Inequality matters because it influences our perceptions about self-worth and justice. All human beings are entitled to the same respect and dignity. Inequality however, has also serious negative socio-economic and security consequences.
Bad for the economy - Inequality also slows GDP growth. It hinders human capital accumulation, hurts educational outcomes and long-term economic prospects for those on the lower end of the income ladder.
Bad for our infrastructure - When excluded, people cannot participate in the institutions that build a society. Examples of this are medical capacity building, industry requiring schooled craftsmen, or credit and insurance.
Bad for our safety - The social impacts of inequality include unemployment, violence, crime, humiliation, and deterioration of human capital and social exclusion. Inequality negatively affects democratic participation, it fosters corruption and civil conflict.
Bad for democracy - Politically, inequality erodes the fairness of institutions. Inequality exacerbates the problem of holding governments accountable. Where social institutions are already fragile, inequality further discourages the civic and social life that underpins effective collective decision-making which is necessary for the functioning of healthy societies.
How co-operatives help
All owners - By widening ownership, co-operatives are a proven force for economic and social inclusion. If the co-operative model continues to grow, inequality will be reduced.
Open to all - Because a coop is open to all, anybody, man or woman, old or young can enter.
Decision power not dependent on wealth - Because a coop has 1 vote regardless of the capital, all have equal decision power.
Equality means also equal access to goods - The UN have recognized as a critical strategy, at the national level, that of ensuring universal access to good-quality, basic goods and services, the very purpose of a co-operative.
The United Nations state that it is important to ensure that provision actually reaches the sections of the population that are typically excluded. Co-ops focus on meeting the needs of their members rather than financial returns alone.
The co-operative movement, presents a unique combination of global reach and people based business conduct. We can play an important role in poverty reduction. Co-operatives help to reduce inequality by empowering people and by offering them a dignified and sustainable way to make a living.