Online event highlights next steps in Deepening the Cooperative Identity

18 May 2022

Over 300 participants attended the International Cooperative Alliance’s online discussion on 13 May as part of a global consultation on the cooperative identity.

The webinar explored the key takeaways from the 33rd World Cooperative Congress and outlined the next steps for deepening the cooperative identity.

The meeting heard from ICA President Ariel Guarco who encouraged cooperatives to be proud of their cooperative identity and being part of the largest network of enterprises “with a values system”.

Cooperatives have a lot to offer to the world, he added, telling cooperators to keep showing the world they have the best enterprise model for sustainable development. Read his opening remarks here.

Martin Lowery, Chair of the ICA Cooperative Identity Committee, said the ICA chose the Congress  theme of deepening the cooperative identity to see how well it is understood.

“We’re moving forward on a journey, today we’re not offering a definitive conclusion, instead we want to talk about what was learnt throughout Congress,” he said.

Along with Ann Hoyt, Professor Emerita at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Mr Lowery summarised some of the main themes at Congress, such as the role of cooperatives in leading change from their local communities while tackling exploitation in supply chains, the future of work, the importance of promoting cooperative education, and sustainable development.

Congress recommendations included making cooperatives more welcoming to marginalised people, addressing the inequitable distribution of wealth, embracing new technology to tackle climate change, and forming partnerships with other actors, including the wider social and solidarity economy (SSE).

Prof Hoyt said: “The principles and values are what inspire all of us to pursue this way of doing business because we truly believe it will have an impact on the success and happiness of the people that we work with.”

Alexandra Wilson, Chair of the ICA’s Cooperative Identity Advisory Group, said Congress marked the beginning of a journey. The1995 Statement on the Cooperative Identity was “very important”, she added, because it was “the first time a single clear definition of the cooperative business model had been set.

“More than 25 years have gone by since the statement was adopted. So we're embarking on this reflection, with the aim of deepening our cooperative identity but also answering the question, ‘How well has the statement stood the test of time?’”.

The Advisory Group includes 23 members who are practitioners, corporate managers, cooperative board members, scholars, and elected leaders from around the world.

“We want to conduct a deep and wide reflection on the statement,” said Ms Wilson.

“We want all of the different sectors that cooperatives are involved in to be part of this. We want every type of cooperative to be part of this process so it's very ambitious. We're hoping the process will enhance the understanding among cooperatives of the cooperative identity and increase its strategic value in the eyes of cooperatives.

The ICA has launched a global survey on the cooperative identity, which is available in English, French and Spanish – with more languages to follow – and it has already received over 800 responses. The ICA is also planning a series of virtual consultation sessions, and the Advisory Group will go through all the findings to present a set of recommendations on the statement to the Board of the ICA.

“If the Board of the ICA deems it appropriate to make any changes to the statement of the cooperative identity, a whole other process will be invoked, which would entail taking those proposals to general assemblies of the ICA,” said Ms Wilson. “The members of the ICA would then make the decision.”

ILO Recommendation 193

The event also featured a session on the standard-setting role of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), particularly through ILO Promotion of Cooperatives Recommendation of 2002.

Ana Toriente, of the Department of International Labour Standards, International Labour Office, said the ILO had been engaged in the promotion of cooperatives since its foundation in 1919.

Together with the 1995 ICA statement on the Cooperative Identity and the 2001 UN guidelines on creating a supportive environment for cooperatives, Recommendation Number 193 provides a framework for governments to develop legislation, administrative systems and policies that can promote and support conducive environments where cooperatives of all sizes and all forms can thrive.

The recommendation is not  legally binding, she added, but all the 187 member states of the ILO report to the ILO Director General on their decision to implement it or not.

Simel Esim, Head of the Cooperatives Unit, ILO, provided an overview of the upcoming discussion on decent work in the SSE, at the International Labour Conference on 30 May-10 June.

Ahead of the conference, the ILO has released a report on the sector which suggests a definition of the SSE based on review of the 23 adopted SSE legislations around the world.

“The proposed definition is based on the values and the operationalisation of these values, which are articulated in the principles,” said Ms Esim.

Danilo Gutiérrez, Executive Director of the National Institute of Cooperativism of Uruguay (INACOOP) discussed his country’s recent SSE law. He said cooperatives should not be diluted in the wider SSE, and Uruguay’s new law does not impact existing cooperative legislation.

Hagen Henrÿ, Chair of the ICA’s Committee on Cooperative Law, added that the challenge for lawyers around the world is translating the cooperative principles into rules and practices.

“I think we have made enormous progress over the past 20 years. We have an increasing number of cooperative laws around the world, which do refer in one way or the other to the cooperative principles,” he said.

ICA Director General Bruno Roelants added that the Recommendation 193 had provided the first full official recognition of the cooperative identity.

“Twenty years later, we continue to reap the benefits of this key leap forward,” he said, adding that “there is probably an enormous unexplored potential in many countries in this field”.

“What is certain is that the coverage of identity has not yet provided all its potential [..] the cooperative identity could offer even more to the world than has been the case so far, in terms of scales, impacts, partnerships – in particular inside the social and solidarity economy and [through] the co-creation of public policies, with governments and international organisations,” he said. 

Find his closing remarks here.

The recording is available below: