How big is the cooperative economy? How many businesses are there out there which aren’t ‘capitalist’, if we define that to mean operating to make profits for their shareholders?
Not an easy question to answer in relation to Britain. Even more difficult for the whole world, but researchers at the European Research Institute on Cooperative and Social Enterprises, based in Italy, are having a go. EURICSE has been working with the International Co-operative Alliance and has just launched the second edition of its World Co-operative Monitor at ICA’s Cape Town conference.
The Monitor contains data on 2,032 cooperatives, mutuals and other businesses which in one way or another are quasi-cooperative, from over fifty countries. Some of the largest have names which will probably ring no bells in Britain: Zenkyoren, State Farm, Kaiser Permanente, Rewe Group, Chs Inc and Achmea are all in the top twenty by turnover, for example. Britain’s Co-operative Group comes in at the 23rd place, incidentally.
EURICSE admits that it’s “not trivial” to decide exactly which businesses to include and which to leave out and say that this year’s Monitor (the second edition) should be considered as work in progress. It’s also the case that some (perhaps many) of the firms in the list aren’t precisely models of member democratic control or good cooperative governance. But it’s nevertheless helpful to be reminded that, when it comes to the world economy, there are major businesses trading successfully which don’t follow the model of shareholder-owned corporations which business schools tend to assume is the only one worth considering.
I’d argue that we need businesses which, whilst being profitable, operate not just to make money for their investors but to achieve broader social and environmental objectives. If we’re looking for these businesses, they may well be listed somewhere in the Monitor. You’ll find it incidentally at www.monitor.coop.