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.

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