7 September 2011

Co-operative Enterprises Build a Better World

Here's an image I hope you are going to see a lot more of during the next year and a half. The UN has designated 2012 as the Year of Co-operation and the global trade body for co-operations, the International Co-operative Alliance, has set itself the target of massively increasing the visibility of co-operatives during this year.

The ICA has some extraordinary statistics on the level of participation in co-operatives across the world. Over a billion people are members of co-operatives worldwide, including 9.8 million in the UK and 239 million in India. 1 in 4 Germans is a member of a co-operative, and 62% of Finns belong to their leading co-operative, the S-Group. In Japan 91% of farmers are members of co-operatives, and in Korea it is 90%. In Kenya, co-operatives are responsible for 45% of economic output including 70% of coffee production and 95% of cotton. Co-operatives appear to represent something like 20% of the global economy.

It is easy to ignore co-operatives just because they are under your nose. But in fact this form of economic organisation represents a solution to the crisis in capitalism and a humane approach to the improvement of the situation of the poor world. Co-operatives allow people to work with dignity and without exploiting others. Because they do not need to extract surplus value for shareholders they are also a sustainable way of producing and consuming goods and services.

Why are co-operatives so invisible? Part of the reason is obviously that the dominant global media system is part of the corporate economy and so has no incentive to give space to the co-operative economy. But I think a deeper reason is that mutual activity is so natural to us that we take it for granted: we marvel at the cut-throat competitive capitalist economy partly because it is so exceptional--and not in a good way.

If, as I do, you believe co-operatives represent a way of organising economic life that is just and sustainable, then please organise an event or two in your local area in the coming year. And if you are a co-operative or are involved with one, please add the logo to your marketing for this year. Although the logo is not the most attractive I have ever seen, if it appears on every co-operative-related site, whether virtual or real, co-operatives should have a chance of getting around the corporate media blocks.

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