By ILO*, 15 September 2014 — Together, cooperative enterprises constitute a major part of the world’s economy. Latest research suggests that the largest 1,500 or so cooperative firms have a combined turnover of US$2.5 trillion.
The International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) points out that cooperatives are major employers, both in developed and developing economies.
|The role of cooperatives ‒ Instruments and indicators to conjugate growth and sustainable development|
|This conference, hosted by The Alliance of Italian Cooperatives (ACI) in partnership with the Directorate General for Development Cooperation (DGCS) of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is the first of a series of events on the role of cooperative enterprises in international cooperation.|
But what do cooperatives as employers do that gives them value? Aside from giving each worker-member an equal voice represented by one vote, no matter how much equity they own, cooperatives have been proven to be resilient in times of economic crisis, thus providing jobs in good times and bad.
In the United States, 30,000 cooperatives provide over two million jobs; in France, 23,000 cooperatives employ 1,070,000 staff and in Kenya, 63 per cent of the population work in cooperatives. Worldwide, in the insurance sector alone, a million people are employed by insurers operating as cooperatives or member-owned mutuals.
Although cooperatives have always identified more closely with trade unions because both are based on the idea of organizing for collective self-help, they can also be found in the ranks of employers’ associations because of their role as employers.
The European model of sectoral social dialogue between social partners provides a good example. In the banking sector, for instance, there are three employers’ organizations, including the European Association of Cooperative Banks (EACB). And in the insurance industry dialogue, trade union UNI Europa sits across the table from the Association of Insurance Mutuals and Insurance Cooperatives in Europe (AMICE), one of the three recognized employers’ bodies.
Photo: ILO/Joseph Fortin 2014
Coops as social partners
In some countries, cooperative organizations can become part of an employers’ organization and are acknowledged either formally or informally by their governments for their role as social partners. In Vietnam, the national apex body, the Vietnam Cooperative Alliance, is seen as the second employers’ federation, after the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
|Cooperatives can strengthen the representation of employers’ organizations.” — Emmanuel Julien, ILO’s Enterprises Department|
These two bodies have worked in recent years with the Minister of Labour and the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour, as well as with the International Labour Organization, on the revision of the labour code, reform of trade union legislation and setting the minimum wage level.
The Vietnam Cooperative Alliance has also been able to work for the amendment of the cooperative law in the country, successfully brought about in 2012.
Emmanuel Julien of the ILO’s Enterprises Department supports this approach: “Cooperatives can strengthen the representation of employers’ organizations. They embody a stable relationship with local communities and workers, which is likely to make them more resilient to crisis”.
He adds that cooperatives can, in turn, benefit from increased working relations with other forms of enterprises and learn from them. “It is a win-win idea,” he concludes.