And while the major banks have been causing continuos financial and economic problems after leashing the current global crisis, the largest 300 cooperatives in the world had an aggregate turnover of 1.1 trillion US dollars, comparable to the gross domestic product (GDP) of many large economies, according to three UN specialised agencies– FAO, IFAD and WFP.
This turnover, achieved by only 300 cooperatives in only one year-2008, is nearly equivalent to the total of the successive plans that Western politicians have been adopting to rescue their banking system, by grabbing the needed money from the pockets of their citizens.
**An International Year… That’s All!**
The UN has declared 2012 the International Year of Cooperatives as a way to underline their role as “catalysts of socially-inclusive development and capacity to empower communities through jobs and income generation.”
The idea is to increase public awareness about them and their contributions to socio-economic development; promote their formation and growth to address common economic needs and for socio-economic empowerment, and “encourage” governments to establish policies, laws and regulation conducive to co-operative formation and growth. This is what the UN says.
**Cooperatives Contribute to Food Security, Employment, Development…**
Meanwhile, everybody recognises their key importance. “Cooperatives contribute to food security, rural development, and other social services,” said Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, who chairs this years’ UN General Assembly sessions.
“They not only provide productive employment opportunities to marginalised groups including women, youth, persons with disabilities, older persons and indigenous people, but also make a valuable contribution through the technical assistance programmes of their human resources development component.”
**“Learn From the Cooperative Movement”**
For her part, UN deputy secretary-general Asha-Rose Migiro says “as the world witnesses growing public discontent as a result of the financial and economic crises, the international community could learn from the cooperative movement, which balanced both economic viability and social responsibility.”
**Unlike the Banks, Cooperatives Are Really Democratic**
“As self-help organisations, cooperatives are inherently people-centred. They not only meet material needs, but also the human need to participate proactively in improving one’s life.”, she said.
“Moreover, with democratic decision-making processes and a focus on cultivating member skills and capacities, cooperatives offer a model for harnessing the energies and passions of all.”
Also Sha Zukang, the under-secretary-general for Economic and Social Affairs, talks about cooperatives, saying they have an important role to play in the transition to a green economy, offer a business model with comparative advantage in creating socially-inclusive and environmentally sound economic practices.
They Account for 60% of Commodities’ Processing and Marketing in Europe
“Cooperatives have also been noteworthy for their contributions to rural development and agricultural productivity across both the developed and developing world,” said Sha.
Across Europe, for example, cooperatives account for some 60 per cent of the processing and marketing of agricultural commodities, and they also hold a 50 per cent share in the supply of inputs,” he added.
In Rome, meanwhile, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) stressed that “smallholder farmers reap benefits from joining agricultural cooperatives through boosting their bargaining power and sharing resources to enhance food security and reduce poverty.”
**Nice, Very Nice, But…**
Nice words, very nice indeed. Everybody talks about the key social and economic role of cooperatives, and the UN has even “encouraged” governments to help them.
But… has anybody advised U.S. and European politicians to think about cooperatives? And of the huge relevance of small and medium-size enterprises in both industrialised and developing countries? And if someone did, is there any way to stop thinking of banks, only?.
Any need to remind once more that in 2008, the largest 300 cooperatives in the world had an aggregate turnover of 1.1 trillion US dollars, comparable to the gross domestic product (GDP) of many large economies?
**Related: International Year of Cooperatives 2012**
Author: Baher Kamal, Human Wrongs Watch publisher and editor, is an Egyptian-born, Spanish-national, secular, pro social justice and peace journalist.