Cooperatives Can Shape a Future Defined by Inclusive, Innovative Work


International Workers’ Day, celebrated annually in May, comes at a time of high unemployment and under-employment, rising job insecurity and income inequality.

The International Co-operative Alliance believes the co-op movement—representing almost 10 percent of the global employed population—is poised to solve these issues by acting as “a large laboratory experimenting with innovative and sustainable forms of work.”

“Technological changes, the knowledge-based economy, big data and delocalization are factors that are quickly impacting the world of work,” ICA president Ariel Guarco said. “We still have to take into account issues such as the gender pay gap and modern slavery, which affects people of all genders and all ages across the world.”

He added that “cooperatives offer another paradigm, where inclusion, participation and growth go hand in hand.”

The Alliance has welcomed the International Labour Organization’s Centenary Initiative and the formation of its Global Commission on the Future of Work. The cooperative movement has presented a position paper, Cooperatives and the Future of Work, and made policy recommendations to promote the role of co-ops.

The report Cooperatives and Employment: A Global Report from CICOPA (the Alliance’s sectoral body for industry and services), found that people working in co-ops feel “a combination of economic rationale, a quest for efficiency, shared flexibility, a sense of participation, a family-type environment, pride and reputation, a strong sense of identity and a focus on values.”

Co-ops have also been working with vulnerable groups such as migrant workers and refugees, contributing to job creation and work integration, the ICA said.

The UN 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda advocates full employment, but the Alliance warns that macroeconomic policies focus instead on monetary and price policies, austerity and flexibilization.

This means co-ops offer an important alternative because they “tend to prioritize long-term effectiveness over short-term managerial efficiency, both because they are driven by citizens’ needs and aspirations, and because they involve those same citizens in an enterprise which the latter jointly own and democratically control.”

It says co-ops around the world are taking advantage of the new opportunities in the “white economy,” “green economy,” “circular economy” and creative industries.

“In many of these activities,” the ICA said, “the cooperative model has a comparative advantage because decentralized and democratic management is often conducive to their delivery.”

Its policy recommendations on the future of work are to:

  • Actively promote the cooperative model as a creator of quality jobs and collective wealth at the local, national and international levels;
  • Change the conditions of access to social protection so that all workers can have access to it, independently from their work status;
  • Approve legislation allowing for the monitoring of the proper functioning of cooperatives, including in the field of workers’ rights;
  • Strongly encourage dialogue and alliances between the cooperative movement and the trade unions.

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