The International Labour Organization and the International Co-operative Alliance step up collaboration to promote co-operatives and decent work

30 Jun 2015

The International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Co-operative Alliance have signed a partnership agreement that marks the beginning of a new and more intense phase of collaboration between the two organizations.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) aims to contribute to sustainable development by promoting the role of cooperative enterprises in the context of the Post 2015 development agenda. It is a revised and updated version of an earlier agreement that was signed in 2004 under the framework of the UN Millennium Development Goals.

 ILO Director General Guy Ryder welcomed the new MoU by saying that “the new agreement with the International Co-operative Alliance is a forward-looking exercise fully consistent with the ILO’s 2016-17 priorities as just adopted by our annual International Labour Conference,  as well as Alliance’s Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade. It will allow us to tap into the full potential of cooperatives around the world as we continue to work towards a sustainable future with decent work for all”.

Dame Pauline Green, President of the International Co-operative Alliance: “The Alliance is proud to step up its collaboration with the International Labour Office. Co-operatives promote decent work and labour standards because of the democratic checks and balances existing inside them. Decent work is the cornerstone of sustainable development, and co-operatives - providing over 250 million jobs worldwide -have proven that they can create and sustain quality employment even in times of crisis. Co-ops also play an important role in helping small informal economy producers transition towards the formal economy. Co-operatives are an indispensable asset for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals because they offer an alternative model of enterprise, one that works towards a ‘triple bottom line’ of social, economic and environmental sustainability.”

Co-operatives directly employ 250 million people in the world, in addition to those indirectly employed due to the economic activity that cooperatives generate.

The ILO and the International Co-operative Alliance have worked together to promote co-operatives since the foundation of the ILO in 1919.  The first Director-General of the ILO, Albert Thomas, was a leading figure in the French cooperative movement and member of the Central Committee of the Alliance. The ILO also established a Cooperatives Unit in 1920 which continues to make major contributions to the work of the Organization.

When they first met in December 2012 in Brussels, Alliance President Dame Pauline Green and ILO Director-General Guy Ryder agreed to promote the contribution of cooperatives to decent work and other sustainable development goals, to highlight their resilience to economic crisis and their contribution to women’s equality, and to improve statistics on cooperatives, among other issues.

 Since that meeting, the two institutions have worked closely together on all these issues through bilateral and multilateral platforms, including the Committee for the Promotion and Advancement of Cooperatives (COPAC) and the UN Interagency Task Force on Social and Solidarity Economy.

The joint research and policy dialogue initiatives launched by the ILO and Alliance in the last two-and a half years are also starting to bear fruit. The Declaration of the International Summit of Cooperatives in October 2014 (new link to ICA web site article to follow) includes a commitment to decent work. A two day research conference on cooperatives and decent work taking place at the Alliance’s bi-annual global conference ( in Antalya, Turkey, in November 2015 will be another collaborative effort bringing together ICA’s Cooperative Research Committee and the ILO. 

In the context of the post-2015 development agenda, the partnership will build on relevant international labour standards, including the ILO’s Promotion of Cooperatives Recommendation, 2002 (No. 193) and the new ILO Recommendation  on the Transition from the Informal to the Formal Economy, 2015 (No. 204).

 “The idea is to leverage the advantage of cooperatives in promoting decent work and advancing the decent work agenda,” said Jürgen Schwettmann, Director of the ILO’s Partnership and Field Support Department (PARDEV).

Besides its close partnership with Alliance, the ILO is a member of the Committee for the Promotion and Advancement of Cooperatives (COPAC) , an interagency committee which promotes sustainable cooperative development. It also collaborates with cooperative development agencies and training institutions.

Photo: Pauline green, President (International Co-operative Alliance) with Guy Ryder, Director-General (ILO)