The world marked the International Day of Co-operatives on Saturday (4 July) – with this year’s event focused on the movement’s efforts to combat climate change.
UN secretary general António Guterres said: “The Covid-19 pandemic and climate emergency have both revealed the fragility of our societies and our planet … They also make clear the need to strengthen global cooperation and solidarity.”
His words were echoed by leading figures of the co-op movement as well as co-op enterprises around the world.
Ariel Guarco, president of the International Co-operative Alliance, warned hat the world is “experiencing a health, social and economic crisis of extremely fragile conditions due to the prevailing social inequalities and the profound environmental imbalance that human actions have caused for several decades”.
He added: “In line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we have been warning that a linear mode of unhindered production and consumption will lead us to a point of no return in a mere decade.
“Since 1990, global carbon dioxide emissions have increased by 50 percent. Today, 800 million people are vulnerable to severe drought, toxic air pollutants, rising sea levels and frequent and powerful natural disasters.”
But he said there were co-ops all around the world setting an example of a more sustainable way of doing business.
“Today, even under the most difficult circumstances, the co-operative movement is doing everything in its power to protect communities and help them overcome climate change.
“The defence of our planet goes hand in hand with our collective effort so that no one is left behind. The co-operatives are leading the way called to meet these urgent challenges.”
Guy Ryder, director general of the International Labour Organization, made a statement saluting the links between his organisation – which is markign its centenary – and the co-op movement.
He said: “One of the things this pandemic has done is to remind us just how closely the world of work is connected to climate change and therefore of the central role it must play in combating it. It’s precisely because the cooperative model aligns short-term actions with long-term vision that it can give us precious insight into how to confront global crises, be it pandemic or climate change.”
He added: “Co-operatives and other social and solidarity economy models must be an integral part of the solutions that we envision as we confront the enormous challenges of building back better.”
Co-op sector bodies around the world also joined the campaign. Australia’s Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals (BCCM) said it “knows all too well the serious implications of climate change” with its membership including farmers and agricultural industries that have faced months of heightened challenges from drought, bushfires and Covid-19.
Chief executive Melina Morrison said: “While it has taken shareholder pressure for some of the world’s largest companies to take action on climate change, co-operatives and mutuals have been ahead of the curve, responding rapidly to the concerns of members.”
BCCM highlighted Australian co-op initiatives such as a Bank Australia‘s ‘clean money’ platform with a commitment not to invest in the fossil fuel industry, while Teachers Mutual Bank has been carbon-neutral for six years with its fossil-free banking.
In the US, apex body NCBA Clusa highlighted its international development programme in Peru, Madagascar, Guatemala, Haiti and Indonesia which are “working on climate specific initiatives through trainings and local programs with the goal of supporting reforestation, agroforestry and protecting biodiversity”.
Other observances of the day include a wreath-laying at the Cooperative Monument in the Jardin de la Compagnie, Port Louis, Mauritius before minister of industrial development, SMEs and cooperatives, Mr Soomilduth Bholah, and the chair of the Mauritius Cooperative Alliance, Mr Kona Daramraj.
And the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation (BEDC) encouraged islanders to look at the co-op model and it potential “ to build a better normal, both in terms of ensuring greater social equality and socio-economic resilience”.
BEDC was formed in 1980 a joint venture between the government and the banking sector to encourage small business development, and it has a dedicated co-operative development unit.
It said: “Co-operatives have existed in Bermuda with success and there are co-operatives and hybrid co-operatives in operation to this day.”
In India messages came from co-op organisations including women’s co-op federation SEWA which tweeted of its continued commitment to work with informal women workers.
And there were words of support from the Fairtrade and social economy movements.