The volunteer board of a retail consumers' cooperative, such as the former Oxford, Swindon & Gloucester Co-op, is held to account at an annual general meeting of members

A cooperative (also known as co-operative, co-op, or coop) is "an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise".[1] Cooperatives may include:

Research published by the Worldwatch Institute found that in 2012 approximately one billion people in 96 countries had become members of at least one cooperative.[2] The turnover of the largest three hundred cooperatives in the world reached $2.2 trillion.[3] If they were to be a country, this would make them the seventh largest.[need quotation to verify]

One dictionary defines a cooperative as "a jointly owned enterprise engaging in the production or distribution of goods or the supplying of services, operated by its members for their mutual benefit, typically organized by consumers or farmers".[4] Cooperative businesses are typically more economically resilient than many other forms of enterprise, with twice the number of co-operatives (80%) surviving their first five years compared with other business ownership models (41%).[5] Cooperatives frequently have social goals which they aim to accomplish by investing a proportion of trading profits back into their communities. As an example of this, in 2013, retail co-operatives in the UK invested 6.9% of their pre-tax profits in the communities in which they trade as compared with 2.4% for other rival supermarkets.[6]

The International Co-operative Alliance was the first international association formed (1895) by the cooperative movement.[citation needed] It includes the World Council of Credit Unions. A second organization formed later in Germany: the International Raiffeisen Union. In the United States, the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA CLUSA; the abbreviation of the organization retains the initials of its former name, Cooperative League of the USA) serves as the sector's oldest national membership association. It is dedicated to ensuring that cooperative businesses have the same opportunities as other businesses operating in the country and that consumers have access to cooperatives in the marketplace. A U.S. National Cooperative Bank formed in the 1970s.[7]By 2004 a new association focused on worker co-ops was founded, the United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives.

Since 2002 cooperatives and credit unions could be distinguished on the Internet by use of a .coop domain. Since 2014, following International Cooperative Alliance's introduction of the Cooperative Marque, ICA cooperatives and WOCCU credit unions can also be identified by a coop ethical consumerism label.


Cooperation dates back as far as human beings have been organizing for mutual benefits. Tribes were organized as cooperative structures, allocating jobs and resources among each other, only trading with the external communities.[citation needed] In alpine environments, trade could only be maintained in organized cooperatives to achieve a useful condition of artificial roads such as Viamala in 1472.[8] Pre-industrial Europe is home to the first cooperatives from an industrial context.[9]

Robert Owen (1771–1858) was a social reformer and a pioneer of the cooperative movement.

In 1761, the Fenwick Weavers' Society was formed in Fenwick, East Ayrshire, Scotland to sell discounted oatmeal to local workers.[10] Its services expanded to include assistance with savings and loans, emigration and education. In 1810, Welsh social reformer Robert Owen, from Newtown in mid-Wales, and his partners purchased New Lanark mill from Owen's father-in-law David Dale and proceeded to introduce better labour standards including discounted retail shops where profits were passed on to his employees. Owen left New Lanark to pursue other forms of cooperative organization and develop coop ideas through writing and lecture. Cooperative communities were set up in Glasgow, Indiana and Hampshire, although ultimately unsuccessful. In 1828, William King set up a newspaper, The Cooperator, to promote Owen's thinking, having already set up a cooperative store in Brighton.[11][12]

The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, (RCEP) founded in 1844, is usually considered the first successful cooperative enterprise, used as a model for modern coops, following the 'Rochdale Principles'. A group of 28 weavers and other artisans in Rochdale, England set up the society to open their own store selling food items they could not otherwise afford. Within ten years there were over a thousand cooperative societies in the United Kingdom.[citation needed]

Other events such as the founding of a friendly society by the Tolpuddle Martyrs in 1832 were key occasions in the creation of organized labor and consumer movements.[13]

Other Languages
Alemannisch: Genossenschaft
বাংলা: সমবায়
Bahasa Banjar: Kuprasi
български: Кооперация
Boarisch: Genossnschoft
brezhoneg: Kevelouri
català: Cooperativa
čeština: Družstvo
dansk: Kooperativ
eesti: Ühistu
Ελληνικά: Συνεταιρισμός
español: Cooperativa
Esperanto: Kooperativo
euskara: Kooperatiba
français: Coopérative
galego: Cooperativa
한국어: 협동조합
հայերեն: Կոոպերատիվ
hrvatski: Zadruga
Bahasa Indonesia: Koperasi
interlingua: Cooperativa
עברית: קואופרטיב
Basa Jawa: Koperasi
Lëtzebuergesch: Genossenschaft
lietuvių: Kooperatyvas
magyar: Szövetkezet
മലയാളം: സഹകരണസംഘം
Bahasa Melayu: Koperasi
Nederlands: Coöperatie
नेपाली: सहकारी
日本語: 協同組合
norsk: Samvirke
norsk nynorsk: Samvirkelag
português: Cooperativismo
română: Cooperativă
русский: Кооператив
саха тыла: Кооператив
Simple English: Cooperative
suomi: Osuuskunta
svenska: Kooperation
Tagalog: Kooperatiba
Türkçe: Kooperatif
українська: Кооператив
Tiếng Việt: Hợp tác xã
Winaray: Kooperatiba
中文: 合作社