Three-hundred of the world's top co-operatives have generated over $1.6 trillion, according to the Global 300 report launched by the International Co-operative Alliance.
The figure, which is comparable to the GDP of the world's ninth largest economy, was calculated by the ICA from annual reports issued by co-operatives for the 2008 financial year.
Unveiled at a reception after the launch of the International Year of Co-operatives at the United Nations, the report revealed that the largest co-operative in the world was Crédit Agricole Group, the largest retail banking group in France, which had generated revenue of $103.58 billion during 2008. Another French bank, Groupe Caisse D'Epargne followed with $58.54bn in revenue. Click here to see a map and full list of the top 300 co-operatives from around the world.
ICA President Dame Pauline Green said: “The diversity and robustness of the co-operative business model is based on principles and values. This is why co-operatives were resilient during the global financial crisis, employing over 100 million people worldwide and enabling the development and welfare of societies in the most competitive economies.”
The report analysed co-operatives by seven sectors — which include Agriculture/Forestry, Banking/Credit Unions, Consumer/Retail, Insurance, Workers/Industrial, Health and Utilities and 'Other' category. It detailed how the 2008 global financial crisis affected each industry, while co-operatives were not immune to financial hardship, their flexibility in responding to the shifting markets and the trust of their members enabled these businesses to survive and thrive.
Charles Gould, ICA Director-General, added: "Some think of co-operatives as small, local enterprises and in many cases that’s true. But some are large businesses working at the national or regional level while others are giants running global operations valued in billions. In total, about one billion people are involved in co-operatives in some way, either as members/customers or as employees/participants, or both.
"That is a significant force united behind a unique business philosophy. While corporations fight each other for market share, co-operatives continue to grow steadily, raising the overall welfare of people around the world in a spirit of solidarity rather than exploiting them for selfish ends. They adhere to sound business practices, operate efficiently and effectively, and take their competition seriously."
The largest share of revenue from the Global 300 is France, which generates 28 per cent. This is followed by the United States (16%); Germany (14%); Japan (8%); Netherlands (7%); United Kingdom (4%); Switzerland (3.5%); Italy (2.5%); Finland (2.5%); Korea (2%); and Canada (1.75%).
Agriculture and Forestry
Agriculture and Forestry is the biggest sector, with $472bn revenue taking a 28.85 per cent share. Japan account for almost $110bn of this amount with Zen-Noh (National Federation of Agricultural Co-operatives) and Zenkyoren taking the top two spots in this sector.
According to Mr Won-Byung Choi, president of the International Co-operative Agricultural Organisation (ICAO), the global financial crisis has hit agriculture and agricultural co-operatives especially hard. Consumers around the world bought fewer basic food products because of increased food prices, the animal husbandry industry struggled with extremely high feed prices and co-operatives suffered from the lack of available capital and business opportunities.
In addition to the financial crisis, the growing symptoms of climate change affect agriculture, particularly producers. Drought in many regions, including Russia and South America, has led to a drastic decrease in production of staples, which leads to price increases and to bans on grain exports. Floods and landslides in other areas claim the lives of farmers while devastating the land.
Won-Byung Choi notes the challenge that free trade agreements pose for small scale farmers. “Trade theory,” he says, “is not applicable to agriculture, which is critical to the security of nations. Co-operatives are an alternative that can alleviate the negative effect of laissez-faire.” He adds that ICAO will be especially active in representing agricultural co-operatives and in fostering their growth.
Banking and Credit Unions
Banking and Credit Unions generate $430bn with a 26.27 per cent share. France dominates with four co-operatives generating a combined revenue of $248bn through Crédit Agricole Group (103.58); Groupe Caisse D'Epargne (58.54); Confédération Nationale du Crédit Mutuel (56.69); and Groupe Banques Populaires France 29.39.
During the 2008 global financial crisis, co-operative banks gave millions of people stability and financial security because the co-operative banking business model emphasizes not profit maximisation but instead the best possible products and services to members.
According to Mr Jean-Louis Bancel, Chairman of ICBA – the International Co-operative Banking Association (ICA’s banking sectoral organisation) – this is because co-operative banks take a long-term view and don't rely on the financial market to raise their capital. The model relies on democratic governance, member participation, proximity and satisfying its members and clients’ interests.
Jean-Louis Bancel reports that the recent financial crisis proves that the co-operative banking business model is, more than ever, appropriate and relevant. With 2012 as the year of co-operatives there is an opportunity for the ICBA to show at a global level that the co-operative banking model represents an important contribution to the economic and social well-being of populations and their communities.
The Consumer/Retail sector of the movement holds a 21.6 per cent share of the top 300 co-operatives and in total create combined revenue of $354bn. The bulk of consumer co-operatives are active across Europe with Germany's ReWe Group ($49.6bn) and French hypermarket retailer E. Leclerc ($48.3bn) leading the sector.
Concerning the challenges that lie ahead for consumer co-operatives, Mr Rodrigo Gouveia, Secretary General of EURO COOP, says there is a need for better consolidation of the sector either through mergers between consumer co-operatives or through the acquisition of private brands by co-operatives. “Consumer co-operatives are enterprises owned by consumers, managed democratically and that aim to fulfill the needs and aspirations of the members,” he says. “It is essential that we stress this co-operative difference in terms of values, principles and ethical practices with both suppliers and consumers.”
Health co-operatives hold a 1.65 per cent share of the Global 300 through the generation of $27bn from six co-operatives around the world. These are VGZ-IZA-Trias in Netherlands ($12.3bn); CZ, Netherlands ($7.34bn); HealthPartners, United States ($3.03bn); Group Health Cooperative Puget Sound, United States ($2.77bn); Heartland Co-op, United States ($0.79bn); and PAX Holding, Switzerland ($0.72bn).
According to Dr José Carlos Guisado, president of IHCO, one of the greatest challenges faced by health co-operatives is designing and implementing formulas for collaboration with national public health systems. “Within the current economic context,” José Carlos Guisado reports, “public health costs are a significant financial burden for governments and, in some cases, the system’s sustainability is far from guaranteed. This situation opens the doors for health co-operatives to act as a complement or alternative, depending on the case, to public health; however, this requires legislation to galvanize citizens into taking part in co-operatives and to promote the co-operative business model.”
In the insurance sector, which accounts for a 17.23 per cent share of the top 300 co-ops, a total of $17.23bn in revenue was generated. Eureko, Netherlands ($28.39bn), generated the highest turnover in the sector, which was followed by Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company United States ($26.42bn); Groupama France ($21.72bn); R+V Versicherung AG Germany ($13.90bn); and Debeka Group Germany ($11.46bn).
ICMIF, the International Co-operative and Mutual Insurance Federation, publishes its own Global 500 Report of mutual and co-operative insurers. This report includes many mutuals that are not listed in the Global 300 as ICA only includes co-operative insurers and those mutuals that we recognize as complying with ICA’s principles and values.
Shaun Tarbuck, CEO of ICMIF, reports that in 2008 the mutual and co-operative insurance sector wrote more than USD 1 trillion (1,000 billion) in premiums for the first time, increasing its share of the global insurance market to 24% (22% of life insurance and 27% of non-life). The three fastest-growing mutuals/co-operatives are ICMIF members. “For ICMIF as an organisation that strives to encourage the sharing of best practices and raising of standards,” Shaun Tarbuck says, “this is encouraging; it suggests mutuals/ co-operatives may build their competitive advantage through ICMIF as it continues to pursue its mission of providing a ‘global reach for local strength’.”
Worker, Industrial, Artisanal and Service Producer co-operatives
Worker, Industrial, Artisanal and Service Producer co-operatives have generated $35bn from five co-operatives, which accounts for 2.16 per cent of the Global 300. The five co-operatives under this category were Mondragon Corporation, Spain ($23.34bn); Gedex (Gedimat), France ($2.84bn); PROMAFRANCE (Bigmat), France ($1.95bn); Consorzio Cooperative Costruzioni, Italy ($1.70bn); SACMI, Italy ($1.63bn).
The 2008 financial crisis took many of these co-operatives by surprise, as it did all types of enterprises around the world. A few, such as those in construction, did not feel the effect of the recession until the following year when the pipeline for new projects began to dry up mainly because of state deficits. Bruno Roelants, Secretary-General of CICOPA, a sectoral organisation of the ICA, said: “The co-operatives were more nimble and better armed to face the unknown and unexpected.”
The structure of these co-operatives enabled them to convene worker-owners quickly and take the necessary decisions to respond flexibly to the changed financial environment. As a result, industrial and service co-operatives worldwide have generally been more resilient in terms of enterprises and jobs than many businesses of the same size and in the same countries and sectors.