Defending cooperative identity

An email arrives from Co-operatives UK: “We have had a major campaigning success for the Co-operative sector – we have found out today that our campaign to lobby government has resulted in continuing protection for the word ‘co-operative’ in business names”.

They’re right to be pleased:  there’s been slow but steady growth in public awareness in recent years that the cooperative business model may just provide some sort of alternative to the short-termism and profit-focus of conventional business and it would have been very damaging if, as the UK government originally suggested, the term cooperative had ceased to be protected.

(It would have been highly ironic, too, if after those low years at the end of the twentieth century when the main consumer coops desperately tried to pretend they were just like any other business the position reversed and conventional businesses started trying to brand themselves as coops.)

There does remain the debate about what exactly constitutes a coop.  The correct answer here, of course, is that coops undertake to abide by the cooperative values and principles devised by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) – but in practice the cooperative family is a diverse one, with differing degrees of commitment to those values of “self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity”.

A new opportunity to strengthen a shared sense of identity between cooperatives will come next month, however.  The ICA will be launching at its Cape Town conference a new cooperative branding, which it hopes will be used internationally as an easy way to identify and promote coop businesses. The brand’s logo, incidentally, has been designed by the long-established workers’ coop Calverts, based in London. (I’ll be commenting here further when the brand is publicly unveiled).

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