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:

  • businesses owned and managed by the people who use their services (a consumer cooperative)
  • organizations managed by the people who work there (worker cooperatives)
  • multi-stakeholder or hybrid cooperatives that share ownership between different stakeholder groups. For example, care cooperatives where ownership is shared between both care-givers and receivers. Stakeholders might also include non-profits or investors.
  • second- and third-tier cooperatives whose members are other cooperatives
  • platform cooperatives that use a cooperatively owned and governed website, mobile app or a protocol to facilitate the sale of goods and services.

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]

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%).[4] 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.[5]

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.

Origins and history

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.[6] Pre-industrial Europe is home to the first cooperatives from an industrial context.[7] The roots of the cooperative movement can be traced to multiple influences and extend worldwide. In the English-speaking world, post-feudal forms of cooperation between workers and owners that are expressed today as "profit-sharing" and "surplus sharing" arrangements, existed as far back as 1795.[8] The key ideological influence on the Anglosphere branch of the cooperative movement, however, was a rejection of the charity principles that underpinned welfare reforms when the British government radically revised its Poor Laws in 1834. As both state and church institutions began to routinely distinguish between the 'deserving' and 'undeserving' poor, a movement of friendly societies grew throughout the British Empire based on the principle of mutuality, committed to self-help in the welfare of working people.[citation needed]

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.[9] 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.[10][11]

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.[12]

Friendly Societies established forums through which one member, one vote was practiced in organisation decision-making. The principles challenged the idea that a person should be an owner of property before being granted a political voice. Throughout the second half of the nineteenth century (and then repeatedly every twenty years or so) there was a surge in the number of cooperative organisations, both in commercial practice and civil society, operating to advance democracy and universal suffrage as a political principle.[13] Friendly Societies and consumer cooperatives became the dominant form of organization amongst working people in Anglosphere industrial societies prior to the rise of trade unions and industrial factories. Weinbren reports that by the end of the 19th century, over 80% of British working age men and 90% of Australian working age men were members of one or more Friendly Society.[14]

From the mid-nineteenth century, mutual organisations embraced these ideas in economic enterprises, firstly amongst tradespeople, and later in cooperative stores, educational institutes, financial institutions and industrial enterprises. The common thread (enacted in different ways, and subject to the constraints of various systems of national law) is the principle that an enterprise or association should be owned and controlled by the people it serves, and share any surpluses on the basis of each member's cooperative contribution (as a producer, labourer or consumer) rather than their capacity to invest financial capital.[15]

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.

In 1945 Artturi Ilmari Virtanen received Nobel prize for chemistry for AIV silage which improved milk production and a method of preserving butter, the AIV salt, which led to increased Finnish butter exports. He had started his career in chemistry in Valio, a cooperative of dairy farmers in which he headed the research department for 50 years and where all his major inventions were first put to practice.

Cooperative banks were first to adopt online banking. Stanford Federal Credit Union was the first financial institution to offer online internet banking services to all of its members in October 1994.[16] In 1996 OP Financial Group, also a cooperative bank, became the second online bank in the world and the first in Europe.[17]

By 2004 a new association focused on worker co-ops was founded, the United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives.

The cooperative movement has been fueled globally by ideas of economic democracy. Economic democracy is a socioeconomic philosophy that suggests an expansion of decision-making power from a small minority of corporate shareholders to a larger majority of public stakeholders. There are many different approaches to thinking about and building economic democracy. Anarchists are committed to libertarian socialism and have focused on local organization, including locally managed cooperatives, linked through confederations of unions, cooperatives and communities. Marxists, who as socialists have likewise held and worked for the goal of democratizing productive and reproductive relationships, often placed a greater strategic emphasis on confronting the larger scales of human organization. As they viewed the capitalist class to be politically, militarily and culturally mobilized for the purpose of maintaining an exploitable working class, they fought in the early 20th century to appropriate from the capitalist class the society's collective political capacity in the form of the state, either through democratic socialism, or through what came to be known as Leninism. Though they regard the state as an unnecessarily oppressive institution, Marxists considered appropriating national and international-scale capitalist institutions and resources (such as the state) to be an important first pillar in creating conditions favorable to solidaristic economies.[18][19] With the declining influence of the USSR after the 1960s, socialist strategies pluralized, though economic democratizers have not as yet established a fundamental challenge to the hegemony of global neoliberal capitalism.

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