Cooperatives: Characteristics, activities, status, challenges

26-02-2019

Cooperatives are autonomous associations of people aspiring to achieve their objectives through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise. International organisations, such as the United Nations and the European Union (EU), value the role cooperatives play for society, the economy and (international) development. There are 3 million cooperatives worldwide; together, they provide employment for 280 million people, equating to 10 % of the world's employed population. The 300 largest cooperatives and mutuals in the world had a total turnover of US$2.018 trillion in 2016. In the EU there are some 131 000 cooperatives, with more than 4.3 million employees and an annual turnover of €992 billion. While cooperatives have grown in importance for the (social) economy over the past four decades, they face both long-standing and new challenges, resulting from globalisation or the presence of myriad national laws, but also from organisational and governance issues. Cooperatives have become more product-based and less region-based (in terms of member representation). In addition, cross-border-oriented cooperatives and producer organisations often experience legal uncertainty because of the absence or inconsistent application of international legislation. Policy- and law-makers are currently discussing a number of initiatives aimed at creating a level playing field for cooperatives, both in the EU and globally, that would allow them to compete with investor-oriented firms without giving up their social and cultural orientation. An enabling European legal framework could provide transversal recognition of the cooperative business model across the different sectors of the economy. While small and emerging cooperatives need more targeted funding, and assistance with capacity-building and organisational aspects, larger cooperatives require more EU and national-level support in order to achieve their aims in terms of professionalisation.

Cooperatives are autonomous associations of people aspiring to achieve their objectives through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise. International organisations, such as the United Nations and the European Union (EU), value the role cooperatives play for society, the economy and (international) development. There are 3 million cooperatives worldwide; together, they provide employment for 280 million people, equating to 10 % of the world's employed population. The 300 largest cooperatives and mutuals in the world had a total turnover of US$2.018 trillion in 2016. In the EU there are some 131 000 cooperatives, with more than 4.3 million employees and an annual turnover of €992 billion. While cooperatives have grown in importance for the (social) economy over the past four decades, they face both long-standing and new challenges, resulting from globalisation or the presence of myriad national laws, but also from organisational and governance issues. Cooperatives have become more product-based and less region-based (in terms of member representation). In addition, cross-border-oriented cooperatives and producer organisations often experience legal uncertainty because of the absence or inconsistent application of international legislation. Policy- and law-makers are currently discussing a number of initiatives aimed at creating a level playing field for cooperatives, both in the EU and globally, that would allow them to compete with investor-oriented firms without giving up their social and cultural orientation. An enabling European legal framework could provide transversal recognition of the cooperative business model across the different sectors of the economy. While small and emerging cooperatives need more targeted funding, and assistance with capacity-building and organisational aspects, larger cooperatives require more EU and national-level support in order to achieve their aims in terms of professionalisation.