In this week’s Principle 6 newsletter, guest author Maurice Smith urges the cooperative community to embrace an 8th Cooperative Principle—one that deliberately elevates diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) rather than “[leaving it] to interpretation.”
Read the full newsletter below, then consider how cooperatives could work together to uplift DEI. NCBA CLUSA is on a mission to document Principle 6 collaborations across the country so we can identify trends, document best practices and share this knowledge with you—our fellow cooperators!
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Principle 6 Newsletter – It’s Time for an 8th Cooperative Principle
December 7, 2022
Rio Grande Credit Union supports an eighth principle, diversity, equity and inclusion, which are adopted from the 12 Development Issues that act as barriers to the well-being and prosperity of members and communities served by credit unions. – Rio Grande Credit Union website, 12-1-22
Our cooperative is a friendly and inviting place that makes a difference in the lives of those who work and shop here. We respect the diversity, individual beliefs, and choices of members, staff, and potential members. We seek to provide an environment that incorporates customer input, furthers the goals of our business, and fosters individual growth. – People’s Food Co-op website, “8th Cooperative Principle,” 12-1-22
“Diversity, equity and inclusion are a part of what credit unions do each and every day. Our cooperative principles have guided us to fulfill our mandate and be a resource to all consumers—no matter their income, race, religion. But we’re committed to doing more,” said CUNA President/CEO Jim Nussle. “In passing this resolution, we’re continuing our work to embrace diversity, equity and inclusion efforts within our organization while we support measures throughout our movement and across all cooperatives.” – CUNA News, reported in CU Insight, 9-16-22
The cooperative community should establish an 8th Cooperative Principle. The purpose for an 8th Principle would be to elevate Diversity, Equity and Inclusion as elements of cooperative DNA.
The significance of this proposition cannot be overstated. One of the characteristics that distinguishes cooperatives from other economic pursuits is the existence of legitimately embraced values and principles. The Cooperative Principles define the foundation upon which cooperative actors guide their decisions and conduct. The Principles are so important that cooperatives across all sectors rely on these standards for guidance.
The idea of publishing a new Cooperative Principle was introduced about three years ago. Since then, this subject has been a conversation for cooperators in most sectors of the U.S. economy. The rationale for the 8th Principle has been met with enthusiasm and agreement by many. Some cooperatives, trade associations and stakeholders quickly supported the concept. The supporters immediately took steps to capture diversity, equity and inclusion in board resolutions and staff training in their own co-ops.
One of the characteristics that distinguishes cooperatives from other economic pursuits is the existence of legitimately embraced values and principles.
Cooperatives must continually demonstrate their relevance in the context of contemporary society. Consequently, cooperatives must show applicability to today’s matters. The issues concerning diversity, equity and inclusion have arisen in the psyche of cultures worldwide. Cooperatives often get their start as a movement brought on by the need for social change.
For some, progress on diversity, equity and inclusion is measured by the representation of marginalized members in the governance of a cooperative. In plain language, one looks for cooperative leadership whose demographics mirror the community. A representative slate that resembles the makeup of the community is often a guiding scorecard.
The proposal to establish a new principle is not universally embraced. Some feel there are good reasons to resist this idea. Let’s explore some of the reasons for objecting to a new Cooperative Principle that would elevate attention to diversity, equity and inclusion.
The proposal to establish a new principle is not universally embraced. Let’s explore some of [those] reasons.
There is a viewpoint that Cooperative Principle #2 (co-ops are democratically controlled) resists the idea of this new Principle. From this perspective, democratic control of a cooperative should not be circumvented for any reason. A purist’s impression might hold to the idea that a cooperative’s governance is exactly what the membership has approved. An attempt to influence the makeup of the board or management risks discrediting the wishes of the membership.
Some organizations may avoid highlighting diversity, equity and inclusion because of what it infers. A suggestion to change an organization’s makeup implies a cooperative’s current composition is inadequate. Some may argue strict adherence to proportional selection criteria actually introduces partiality. There are a limited number of board and management positions. A suggestion that some officers be replaced for a ‘proportionalized’ slate may feel uncomfortable with the presumptions of qualification prescriptions.
Some maintain a new Cooperative Principle is not merited because Principle #1 already speaks to diversity. The ICA Guidance Notes for Principle #1 do contain language that wards off discrimination when accepting new members. But it takes an expansionist interpretation to make the point that this language adequately addresses diversity, equity and inclusion.
In international co-op circles, there have been calls to add additional principles for other reasons. Adding an 8th Cooperative Principle for DEI would open the door for calls to add others. Too many principles, it is reasoned, would result in no principles or pick-and-choose principles.
The Cooperative Principles were originally drafted in 1844. This is nearly two decades before enslaved people were legally emancipated in the United States. This is 76 years before women would win the right to vote in the United States. This is 123 years before the United States Supreme Court would strike down state laws banning marriages between people of different races. This is 171 years before same-sex marriages in the Unites States would be legalized.
The arguments for resistance to adding a new Cooperative Principle are not without merit, at least on the surface. Those who hold these viewpoints show a deep reverence for the sanctity of the canons that define what it means to be a cooperative. To be respectful, this dialog deserves a thoughtful treatment of rebuttal perspectives.
To ascertain whether the current set of Cooperative Principles sufficiently addresses the aspirations of diversity, equity and inclusion, one should carefully examine the original intent of the writers. An approach to consider is known by the term Originalism. Originalism is a method of judicial interpretation that challenges the reader to consider what the author intended at the time a manuscript was written. This method follows the logic that a document should keep its fidelity to the original intent.
But the Cooperative Principles were originally drafted in 1844. This is nearly two decades before enslaved people were legally emancipated in the United States. This is 76 years before women would win the right to vote in the United States. This is 123 years before the United States Supreme Court would strike down state laws banning marriages between people of different races. This is 171 years before same-sex marriages in the Unites States would be legalized.
As times change, new perspectives are born. Cooperative identity as expressed through values and principles must resonate with the times. The 6th and 7th Cooperative Principles were crafted and published in the 1990s to reflect a deeper commitment to cooperation among co-ops and concern for community. Vestiges of these principles were undoubtedly implied before, but it was determined that emphasis should be applied in the form of explicit cooperative principles.
Diversity, equity and inclusion can no longer be left to interpretation or accentuation in Guidance Notes.
Today, it has become apparent to this author that diversity, equity and inclusion can no longer be left to interpretation or accentuation in Guidance Notes. It is time for a new Cooperative Principle. This 8th Cooperative Principle should make it unambiguous that cooperatives embrace the ideals of diversity, equity and inclusion. Together, cooperatives can show the world how to build a more responsive society by embracing who we are today.