More than 100 lawyers from Latin America, and 20 from Europe, Canada and Israel, gathered for the forum, held alongside a Latin American Congress on Co-operative Law, discussing issues surrounding the law at a time when collaboration between organisations across national borders is becoming more important.
Papers and presentations had been invited on a wide range of subjects including co-operative law and principles, capital and financing, the taxation of co-operatives, national constitutions and co-operatives.
Lawyers are by training and occupation territorial creatures. Few are qualified to practise in more than one jurisdiction, so getting together across national borders needs a good reason. A shared interest in co-operation clearly provides such a reason, but the fact that this was the first such event inevitably invites comment.
But it was a good thing to do, and if the fourth theme of the Blueprint for a co-operative decade is to be progressed in the most effective way, collaboration across national borders is clearly important.
Notwithstanding the huge differences in legal traditions and in the political environments in which we all work, the extent to which we are all nevertheless wrestling with the same issues is both remarkable and reassuring.
Almost every speaker (including me when talking on the subject of co-operative capital) expressed views about how as lawyers we found ourselves using the language of the markets and investor-owned companies, and operating within legal, financial and regulatory arrangements designed for companies not co-operatives.
So a strong sense of solidarity inevitably arises from such a gathering. We could and should encourage greater sharing of ideas and experience, both among practitioners in the public and private sphere, and academics.
The Latin Americans seem to be well ahead of us here. (One of the research papers considered which national constitutions made express reference to co-operatives. No surprise that Latin America has the highest percentage of such references; Europe has the lowest.)
Two specific initiatives were launched at the Forum. The International Co-operative Alliance announced the intention to launch a website of co-operative laws – effectively an international legal website for statutes and other “black-letter” law. At the same time, the lawyers themselves announced the establishment of an international co-operative lawyers’ website – iuscooperativum.org – for the publication of academic papers, the sharing of ideas, and ultimately the creation of an international cooperative law journal.
The forum was planned to coincide with the 4th regional summit of ICA Americas, which was itself attended by some 1,500 delegates. The great excitement for them was the unexpected attendance by the previous (and highly popular) president of Uruguay, José Mujica.
Our conferences combined for the final celebration which, which as well as tango, drumming and a samba band, involved an asado (google it) at a local estancia for over 1,000 people: some achievement.