The Neighboring Food Co-op Association is a network of more than 30 food co-ops and start-up initiatives across New England locally owned by more than 90,000 people. The association’s recent resolution on cooperative identity is part of a broader movement within the cooperative sphere to ensure that businesses using the cooperative identity adhere to cooperative principles:
The Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) Board of Directors recently approved a resolution on The Co-operative Legal Identity, which seeks to protect and promote co-operative business principles, “to ensure the integrity of statutes and use of the co-operative name, and to promote use of the co-operative business model as an effective tool for self-help, poverty reduction, human development, and economic and social sustainability.”
In approving the resolution, which may be downloaded at www.nfca.coop/resolutions, the NFCA is joining with other organizations such as the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) in calling on governments, organizations and individuals to ensure that the Co-operative Identity is reflected in the incorporation and operation of enterprises using the co-operative name.
With growing interest in building resilient local food systems and economies, co-ops – businesses that are owned and democratically controlled by their members – have been receiving increased attention. In fact, the United Nations declared 2012 the International Year of Co-ops, recognizing the role of co-operative enterprise in poverty reduction, employment generation and sustainable economic development around the world.
In 2013, the ICA released its Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade, which envisions co-operative enterprise as the preferred business model for people around the world. The document notes that as interest in co-ops continue to grow, “the co-operative sector has a legitimate interest in seeking to protect the integrity of the ‘co-operative’ word so it is not misused.”
The NFCA resolution is in support of ICA efforts to promote and protect the Co-operative Identity, and in response to recent examples of proposed legislation that would undermine democratic member control and enterprises using the name “co-operative” when they are not incorporated as co-ops, do not operate in a co-operative manner, or are controlled by external, non-member interests such as governments, investors or non-profit organizations. As a result there is increasing concern about the integrity of the co-op name and confusion among consumers about what constitutes a “co-op.”
“For generations, people have used co-ops to meet their needs and shared goals,” said Erbin Crowell, executive director for the NFCA. “With increased interest in co-operative enterprise as a tool for addressing issues of climate change, employment and community development, it has never been more important to promote and protect the unique character of our business model and the meaning of the co-op name in the marketplace.”