Conclusions on the social and solidarity economy, including cooperatives, approved by the ILO

13 Jun 2022
ILC Plenary Conclusions

By Bruno Roelants, ICA Director General

The ILO Conclusions on Decent Work and the Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE), explicitly including cooperatives, have been approved by the Plenary of the International Labour Conference (ILC) on 10 June in Geneva, after 10 days of discussions (31 May-9 June) in which the ICA took part. You can find the whole text here.

I took part in person in the ILC Committee elaborating the text, after having been accredited through ICA Italian member Italian Cooperative Alliance in the Employers Group (as similar status as the one I had in 2001 and 2002 during the discussions on Promotion of Cooperatives Recommendation, 2002 (n*193)), while ICA Policy Coordinator Joseph Njuguna and ICA Director of Legislation Santosh Kumar participated online as observers, as per the ICA’s observer status at the ILO and made a speech for the ICA at the beginning of the Committee’s work.

The three ILO constituents, namely governments, trade unions and employer organisations, elaborated the text of the Conclusions. The ICA participated as part of the International Coalition of the SSE (ICSSE), established last year in line with the ICA 2020-2030 Strategic Plan, and grouping also ICMIF and AIM for the mutuals, as well as GSEF and ESS International Forum. Representatives of associate members of the ICA, Gianluca Salvatori for EURICSE (Italy) as well as Filipa Farelo and Eduardo Pedroso for CASES (Portugal) were accredited with their respective governments, whereas Eva Cantele, General Delegate of our ICSSE partner SSE Forum, was accredited with the French government, which had the chairmanship of the EU Group in the Committee.  

From the ICSSE coalition, we presented a series of proposals for the text during the successive stages of the drafting, in constant contact with the government groups (Africa, Latin America and Caribbeans, Asia and Pacific, and the EU) as well as the employers’ and trade unions’ groups. These proposals have had a substantial impact on the final text.

“Conclusions” are not considered as part of the ILO instruments like conventions and recommendations (which take two years to negotiate) and are more targeted at the ILO Governing Body, which will examine in November how to operationalize this text. Nevertheless, as this is the very first text on the SSE being negotiated among the members of a UN agency, it will probably have a substantial impact beyond the ILO.

As a first and probably most important result, the Conclusions include a first conceptual definition being negotiated within the UN system about what the SSE is. The definition states in its paragraph 5 that:

  • The SSE “includes cooperatives, associations, mutual societies, foundations, social enterprises, self-help groups and other entities operating in accordance with the values and principles of the SSE”.
  • Its entities “operate in all sectors of the economy”.
  • It “encompasses enterprises, organizations and other entities that are engaged in economic, social, and environmental activities to serve the collective and/or general interest”
  • It is “based on the principles of voluntary cooperation and mutual aid, democratic and/or participatory governance, autonomy and independence, and the primacy of people and social purpose over capital in the distribution and use of surpluses and/or profits as well as assets.
  • Its entities “put into practice a set of values which are intrinsic to their functioning and consistent with care for people and planet, equality and fairness, interdependence, self-governance, transparency and accountability, and the attainment of decent work and livelihoods”.

The Conclusions mention the Promotion of Cooperatives Recommendation, 2002 (n*193) twice as one of their foundational references.

They emphasise that the SSSE contributes “to both well-established and innovative solutions to provide decent work opportunities and meet the needs of disadvantaged groups and persons in vulnerable situations, particularly women, including in rural areas” (6 d), and recognize “the SSE’s role in respecting human dignity, building community and fostering diversity, solidarity, and respect for traditional knowledge and cultures, including among indigenous and tribal peoples” (6 j) as well as its “potential for building social inclusion, especially as regards women, youth and disadvantaged groups, such as the unemployed, persons with disabilities, migrant workers, and indigenous peoples” (7 f).

The Conclusions also mention that ILO members should “integrate the SSE into national development, recovery, and employment strategies to support pro-employment macroeconomic, tax, industrial, social, environmental and other policies for promoting just digital and environmental transitions and reducing Inequalities” (9 d) and, “in line with Recommendation No. 193, introduce support measures to enable access to information, finance, markets, technology, infrastructure and well-regulated and socially responsible public procurement, especially for disadvantaged groups and persons in vulnerable situations” (9 h). They should also “strengthen labour inspection” and “promote collaboration among labour inspectorates, social partners and SSE representatives” to oversee SSE entities (9 I) and “improve statistics on SSE, such as through satellite accounts and collaboration between national statistical institutes and SSE institutional representatives, to inform the formulation and implementation of policies” (9 n).

The text also invites the ILO Office to “work towards the development of international guidelines on statistics concerning the SSE and examine the potential to establish an international observatory on SSE data in collaboration with SSE networks and representative bodies, national statistical offices and international organizations that will contribute to the promotion of decent work” (16 c).

It is worth mentioning that, through the discussions and in particular in the first two days of statements by all parties, including SSE representative organisations and NGOs, and in the plenary of the Conference at the end, almost all cases and examples provided were about cooperatives. It was recalled in Plenary that the the ILO Constitution mentions “co-operators” in its Art. 12, and that the ILO Cooperative unit has been alive since 1920.

Important work now lies ahead for the ICA and the other representative organisations grouped in the ICSSE coalition, as a work plan on SSE based on these Conclusions should be presented to the ILO Governing Body in November. The ILO will then be under the leadership of the present DG Elect, Gilbert Houngbo, whom I had a working meeting with within the framework of the ongoing transition.

Bruno Roelants
ICA Director General


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