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Co-operatives Drive Sustainable Growth

Calling on international policymakers to recognize co-ops as drivers of sustainable growth.

By the International Co-operative Alliance

The International Co-operative Alliance, the global voice for co-operatives, published its position on this issue, highlighting the many obstacles, which still exist for the billion people-strong movement.
Sustainable development is at the very core of co-operative enterprises. As a model of business based on ethical values and principles whose goal it is to provide for the needs and aspirations of their members, co-operatives play a pivotal role in responding to local community needs and objectives.

For the co-operative movement, sustainability is to be understood holistically. Environmental, social and economic factors need to develop together for people to become self-reliant. The co-operative model’s principle-based approach to growth provides tremendous potential to help communities to thrive socially, environmentally and economically.

With this in mind, the International Co-operative Alliance calls attention to the legislative obstacles, which in many countries impede co-operatives’ contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


How can co-operatives contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals?

Co-operatives do not look at short-term goals of maximizing profits but instead have a long-term aim of sustainable economic growth, social development and environmental responsibility.
Indeed, when closing the 2012 UN International Year of Co-operatives, the UN Secretary-General, Ban-ki Moon, recognised that “as a strong partner in development, the co-operative movement works with the United Nations every day to empower people, enhance human dignity and help achieve the Millennium Development Goals.”

The Rio+20 conclusions also “acknowledge the role of co-operatives (…) in contributing to social inclusion and poverty reduction, in particular in developing countries”.

Charles Gould, International Co-operative Alliance Director-General: “Co-operatives are vital to society because they send a message that there are sustainable alternatives to the organisation of business and social activities in a more ethical and people-centred way.”


What obstacles do co-operatives face?

Internationally, co-operatives often face a very poor enabling environment. This can be either due to restrictive laws or sometimes even the complete absence of a co-operative legal framework. To function well, co-operatives need prudential regulation, which protects democratic member control and ownership, autonomy, as well as voluntary and open membership.

Furthermore, co-operatives require access to specific funding programs, which respect the fact that the share capital is owned and democratically controlled by their members.

It is also imperative that co-operative structures participate in the decision-making processes regarding the SDGs. Moreover, the identification of specific measures and programs should ensure the involvement of local business, their representative organizations and civil society.

Rodrigo Gouveia, International Co-operative Alliance Director of Policy: “co-operative enterprises are a well suited model of business to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals. The generation and equitable distribution of wealth, the creation and maintenance of sustainable enterprises and jobs at the local level and the concern for the surrounding community are specific characteristics of co-operatives that makes them well suited to deliver these goals.”

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