CICOPA report examined future of work for industrial and service co-operatives

The global workforce is facing a time of change and challenge – so how can co-ops respond?

CICOPA, the international organisation of industrial and service co-operatives, has launched a strategic paper analysing the challenges contributing to the transformation of work.

The report also examines how co-operatives are responding to these challenges. Previous research by CICOPA found that co-ops account for 10% of the global employed population while the wider social and solidarity economy represents a wider share of the world’s workers.

But CICOPA’s paper points out this contribution goes beyond numbers: co-ops are more sustainable, offer higher levels of satisfaction at work and bring less income inequality than other enterprises.

The report focuses on four challenges – technological change and the knowledge economy; demographic, societal and environmental trends; globalisation and de-industrialisation; and the impact of the reorganisation of work on working conditions, inequality and social protection.

Technological changes pose challenges to industrial co-operatives, particularly in terms of production automation, book-keeping, and marketing. However, they can also favour more genuine forms of collaborative work, such as co-operation among producers, freelancers and SMEs through co-operatives and among co-operatives themselves.

Platforms are also compatible with the inner structural features that characterise worker, social, self-employed/freelancers’ and multi-stakeholder co-operatives, according to the report. It gives examples of platforms such as Stocksy, a co-op of freelance photographers; SMART, a Belgian co-op of 85,000 independent workers; and Coopify, used by the Center for Family Life in New York to help worker co-ops to compete with the big platforms in looking for clients.

Other activities where co-ops are particularly placed to respond to demographic, social and environmental trends are those revolving around IT, health and social services, the protection of the environment, energy production, culture, design, leisure and travel. Due to their high level of legitimacy and service quality, they provide solutions for and by the concerned group of individuals, argues the report.

Globalisation and deindustrialisation are also posing challenges, resulting in a profound transformation in the production of goods and services. The restructuring of industrial enterprises can be done by converting them to worker co-ops. The CICOPA network includes 20,000 such co-ops.

With an increase in the number of self-employed people in recent years, co-operatives have been providing inputs and services including better work status and social protection.

Co-ops are also able to cope with the challenges posed by globalisation by internationalising and controlling larger parts of the chains, unlike other enterprises, which choose to reduce jobs in one location and create them somewhere else.

CICOPA also provides policy recommendations structured around the ILO’s concept of Decent Work. Suggestions include co-operative promotion policies as enshrined in the ILO Promotion of Cooperatives Recommendation; legislation that reflects the ICA’s statement on the co-operative identity; helping co-operatives to develop social policy outcome; policies for the participation of women in co-operatives; supporting the role of co-operatives in transforming informal economy activities into formal one; and encouraging co-operative organisations to establish an active working relationship with employers’ and workers’ organisations.

The full report is available online of CICOPA’s website.

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