I want to blog today about what I consider the most important publication to have come from within the cooperative movement so far this century. I think every coop in the country should have a copy, readily available to be consulted (and debated). However, unless you were at the International Co-operative Alliance’s recent conference in Turkey, my strong suspicion is that you may not yet have seen it or read it.
The publication comes from the ICA and is entitled Guidance Notes to the Co-operative Principles. In other words, its starting point are the seven agreed core international principles behind the cooperative concept. These principles help to bind together what (let’s be honest) can be a very heterogeneous movement. Encouragingly I have noted a trend in recent years for British coops (particularly workers’ coops) increasingly to make reference to them.
The principles were last agreed in 1995, at what was the centenary conference of the ICA held in Manchester. The 1995 iteration followed two earlier versions, agreed by the ICA in 1937 and 1966. But all three statements of cooperative principle were heavily influenced by early debates among cooperative pioneers, particularly the ‘Rochdale Principles’ developed in the British cooperative movement in the mid nineteenth century.
So what does the new publication offer us? It offers us for the first time a comprehensive set of proposals for how the principles can and perhaps should be put into practice by cooperatives, in real life. As Pauline Green puts it in her foreword, the Guidance Notes “allow cooperatives themselves to fully grasp just what it means to be a cooperative in the world in which they are now working”. It’s a tool.
Almost all the key ethical, managerial and governance issues facing cooperatives are covered here somewhere. Look carefully and you’ll find, for example, guidance on the importance of indivisibility of coop reserves (avast, you would-be demutualisers and carpet-baggers!), on member democracy and executive power, on executive pay (this last section should perhaps be stronger), on issues associated with equity capital, on enlightened treatment of employees and the importance of ILO core labour standards, on coop responsibilities in relation to environmental sustainability, and so much more.
What’s here is, of course, guidance not dictat – some coops will cheerfully disregard the lot, just as they disregard the seven principles at the moment. But it’s a collective expression from across the global coop movement of what is considered appropriate and best practice. That’s why I think it is important.
One irritation: the PDF on the ICA website is hard to cope with. Hard copy versions need to be acquired, and distributed widely. As soon as possible, please.