International Day of Cooperatives

Tomorrow is the first Saturday in July and therefore – as determined by the United Nations – the International Day of Cooperatives.

I’ll be involved locally, and as I am lucky to live in a town with a rich cooperative history I’ll be at events to commemorate that heritage, including a cooperative history guided walk.  But I’ll also be at an event at lunchtime which is looking forward, not back. Today’s cooperatives – and we have plenty of active cooperatives in our neighbourhood – will be coming together to share their news, to network, and to work out how we can strengthen further the cooperative sector locally.


I wish you a stimulating and enjoyable International Day of Cooperatives as well.

A ‘passion for social justice': the ICA spells out what the Co-operative Principles should mean in practice

Something rather important has been happening in the global cooperative movement which, unless you’re a regular at International Co-operative Alliance conferences, you may well have missed.

In recent years, cooperators (particularly in Latin America) began to complain that there was nothing in the international Co-operative Principles and Values about environmental sustainability. Rather than amend the seven Principles (agreed in 1995 after what seemed like decades of debate), the ICA has done something different. It has drawn up Guidance Notes to the Principles, a seventy-five page document currently in draft form which tries to explain how cooperatives should live out the Principles in their day-to-day life.

There’s a lot here to discuss. There’s also a lot here that’s radical. I like the statement near the beginning that says: “Our Co-operative Founders wanted to achieve much more than just establishing and operating successful business enterprises. They were concerned for social justice and were motivated by a passion to help transform the lives of those whose social, economic and cultural needs they had the vision to seek to meet through a jointly-owned and democratically controlled enterprise. In the tradition of our founders the Alliance too seeks, through these Guidance Notes, to show that same passion for social justice and transformation and a renewed vision of how co-operative enterprises in the 21st century can indeed build a better world by putting our Co-operative Identity Values and Principles into practice.”

What I’ve particularly noticed is the statement that cooperatives, in their employment practices, should abide by the international Labour Standards drawn up by the UN’s International Labour Organization – and more than that, should seek to be in the vanguard of good employment practice. This is the first time, as far as I’m aware, that the ICA has addressed this issue, and formal endorsement of the ILO Labour Standards is exactly what I’ve been wanting the cooperative movement to do for some time. (Some multinationals are well ahead of coops in this area).

Here’s the relevant section (the last two sentences are what to look out for):

Social sustainability: concern for employees

3.8 Employees are recruited from and live in the communities in which co-operatives work. Concern for the sustainable development of communities requires co-operatives to be good employers and to be concerned about their employees’ wellbeing and the wellbeing of their employees’ families.

 3.9 The Preamble to the 2002 International Labour Organisation’s Recommendation 193 on the Promotion of Co-operatives refers to “the rights and principles embodied in international labour Conventions and Recommendations”. In the draft text of Recommendation 193 approved by the Alliance’s Board in April 2002, reference to the ILOs labour conventions and recommendations was included and the draft text was approved by the Alliance’s Board. The ILO’s Labour Standards should therefore be considered as the foundation for establishing a co-operative’s employment policies. Co-operatives should lead by example in seeking to apply them.”

The ICA is asking for the Guidance Notes to be discussed as widely as possible in the run up to its forthcoming conference in November. You’ll find them here. There’s also an online survey being operated by the ICA for feedback, which you’ll find through the same link.

Co-op capital: the Phone Co-op looks to its own members

I’ve been reading the half-yearly report just published by the Phone Co-op, and see that they report that they now have capital of £5.9m invested in the business belonging to their 10,000 or so members. “As has been the case for many years, the Society has no borrowings and continues to finance all of its operations from retained profits and the share capital provided by members,” the report says.

The Members’ Capital shown on the balance sheet is partly made up of accumulated dividends, but also reflects the Phone Co-op’s proactive approach in seeking direct investment by its members in the cooperative business. It’s an interesting example of Co-operative Principle 3 in practice.

(Can’t remember which principle that is? The answer is here).

Community and cooperative housing and the Right to Buy

The government’s proposed extension of tenants’ Right to Buy to housing associations (to be introduced in the forthcoming Housing Bill) could potentially have a very serious negative effect on the work of community land trusts. Depending on how the legislation is drafted, other types of cooperative housing might also be affected. My piece on this issue for Co-operative News has been published online today and will be in the print edition shortly.

A cooperative route to economic success

Ideally, instead of being here at my office desk typing a blog, I’d have been at Westminster this morning for the launch of The Co-operative Advantage, a substantial piece of research coordinated by Ed Mayo at Co-operatives UK which suggests fifty innovative ways that cooperatives could help boost the British economy.

The book is divided into chapters covering, among other sectors, agriculture, housing, transport, banking, renewable energy, social care, health and (the chapter which I was asked to contribute) insurance.

Ed Mayo’s introduction sets the overall theme behind the book: “Britain needs to nurture a new approach for economic success. One ingredient for this will be to harness innovation trends that are encouraging a far stronger dose of economic collaboration… The participative model…of co-operative and mutual enterprise, where ownership is open to those who are most closely involved in the business itself, can itself add value.”

The book’s available for online purchase from New Internationalist (itself a cooperative, of course) at



Community shares look for higher standards

I’ve been delighted at the growth in recent years of community share issues, supported by the joint Locality/Co-operatives UK community shares project based in Manchester. But I’ve also been increasingly concerned that some community groups, carried away probably by sheer enthusiasm, have been inviting people to buy shares without really having anything like an adequate business plan to show them. There will unfortunately undoubtedly be business failures, and investors who will lose money, as some of the early community share-funded initiatives unravel.

The Community Shares Standard Mark, being launched today, is an attempt to impose some basic minimum standards and give some kind of reassurance for would-be investors. It’s a sensible idea, even though it’s possible to quibble with the details: the standard mark is only available to ventures who pay for consultancy time from one of a set list of practitioners, for example.

Incidentally I like to claim that a workers’ coop I was once involved in was one of the first (perhaps even the first?) to appeal for capital from supporters in this sort of way (in our case through community loanstock rather than through community shares). This was in 1979, and enough money arrived to enable us to buy a shop premises in Milton Keynes. Anyone know of any earlier examples?