Looking back on 2020: A year in co-operation

The global movement responded to the unprecedented challenges of Covid-19 - but continued to innovate and spread its model as well


Australia’s co-ops and credit unions spring into action as the devastating bushfires sweep across the country. The response includes fundraising, community support and help for affected colleagues.

The Greater Manchester Co-operative Commission, created by metro mayor Andy Burnham to find mutual solutions for the regional economy, releases its report. It recommends the city be designated a Co-operative Zone with dedicated business support for co-ops.

Co-operation Town, a new network of community food co-ops, kicks of the year with ambitious plans to create grassroots food collectives across the UK.

Related: Cooperation Town launches starter pack for new food co-ops


Ed Mayo, secretary general of UK sector body Co-operatives UK, announces decision to leave the organisation for London charity Pilotlight. He left in April, his successor was announced as Rose Marley, who takes up the post in January 2021.

The latest edition of the World Cooperative Monitor is released by the International Cooperative Alliance. It reveals that the world’s 300 largest co-ops have a combined turnover of $US2.03tn.

Young co-operators gather in Malaysia for the Global Youth Forum
of the International Cooperative Alliance. The agenda includes an ambitious plan to support new youth co-op start-ups.

Gemma Obeng delivering a training session at the 2020 Global Youth Forum on Co-operative Entrepreneurship in Malaysia (Photo: ICA)


The Covid-19 pandemic leads to lockdowns and social distancing measures around the world – forcing some co-operative businesses to close, others to repurpose themselves to meet community needs, and prompting a flurry
of activity in the retail, insurance and finance sectors. Amid the gloom, some suggest the rise of mutual aid networks will leave a lasting interest in co-operative community models.

Related: How are community businesses meeting the challenges of lockdown?

The UK’s Co-op Group releases new data from its Community Wellbeing Index and urges local government, charities and businesses to do more to foster wellbeing in the country’s “failing towns”.

New Zealand dairy co-op Fonterra returns to profit in its half-year results. CEO Miles Hurrell hails the news as evidence of the business’s turnaround after it reported an annual loss of NZ$605m (£310m) in 2019.


Sir Keir Starmer is elected leader of the UK’s Labour Party and appoints several Labour/Co-op MPs to his frontbencher team – including the key role of shadow chancellor, which goes to Anneliese Dodds. Other posts go to Jonathan Ashworth, Jonathan Reynolds, Luke Pollard, Steve Reed, Jim McMahon and Preet Kaur Gill.

The co-op movement steps up its Covid-19 responses as the crisis unfolds. Efforts range from a relief campaign in Italy by platform co-op start-up Fairbnb to calls for emergency flexible regulation by the World Council of Credit Unions;  from emergency staff and volunteer recruitment across the UK retail sector to community shops and pubs acting as hubs for neighbourhood support activity.


As the pandemic crisis continues, concern grows that co-op and community businesses will miss out on vital government support. The Co-op Group, Co-operatives UK, Social Enterprise UK and Plunkett Foundation are among organisations signing a plea to chancellor Rishi Sunak to ensure the sector is given the support it needs to take part in the national economic recovery.

The co-op movement goes online, as lockdown rules mean that co-op AGMS, conferences and educational programmes cannot be held in person. 

The International Cooperative Alliance announces the postponement of the 33rd World Cooperative Congress, which had been set for December 2020 in Seoul. It will now be held in December 2021.

Click here for the Congress website


The Co-op Economy Report – a survey of the UK sector – is released. Co-operatives UK, which compiled the report, says it contains evidence
of the business model’s resilience – which will leave it well placed to drive the post-lockdown recovery. 

In the USA – and around the world – protestors take to the streets in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, following the death in policy custody of George Floyd. Co-ops and credit unions back the movement; Rodney E Hood, chair of the US National Credit Union Administration, calls on the movement to find ways ‘to promote diversity and inclusion’.

A group of London cab drivers launch a bid to remove the board of their co-op – the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association. They accuse the Council of Management of  ‘capturing’ the association – a claim the board denies.


The Co-operative Councils Innovation Network (CCIN), which represents co-op councils in the UK, releases a report on how community-led ideas can restart economies after a Covid-19 recession. The Co-operatives Unleashed from the Grassroots report highlights solutions such as community wealth building, regional mutual banks and local commitments to support the growth of the co-op sector.

In Canada, a six-month dispute over pensions between the Unifor union and the Co-op Refinery Complex – part of Federated Co-operatives Ltd – comes to an end as the two sides ratify an agreement.

UK retail co-ops step up their efforts to tackle retail crime after a series of harrowing attacks on staff at Central England Co-op. Co-op retailers are using a mix of solutions – from the latest tech to community-based crime prevention initiatives.


The Co-op Group announces a review of funding for core infrastructure organisations in the UK co-op movement – including Co-op News, the Co-operative College, Co-operatives UK and the Co-operative Heritage Trust.

In Bristol, the latest addition to the student housing co-op movement gets off the ground as it hits the fund-raising target for its first steps – registering the co-op and starting the search for properties.

DotCoop and the Solidarity Economy Association launch a global directory of the world’s co-ops. The online resource will list all organisations with a .coop domain to improve their visibility in the community.


Co-op retailers throw their support behind footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign to tackle child food poverty, as Covid-19 leaves a growing number of families vulnerable. Mr Rashford had already worked with the Co-op Group, appearing in its TV ad to raise funds for food charity FareShare.

There are shockwaves across the Canadian and global co-op movements as iconic retailer Mountain Equipment Co-op is sold to a US private equity firm. The co-op’s managers said MEC’s finances meant it could not survive but members said they had not been properly consulted. They are now appealing against the sale in court and campaigning for co-op options for the retailer.


After a tough year, there are still positive signs – including new UK co-op ventures: a community-owned river hydro scheme in Bristol, run by Bristol Energy Co-op; the revival of bicycle manufacture in Birmingham – once a global centre for the industry – by worker co-op Birmingham Bike Foundry; and Signalise, a platform co-op for BSL interpreters.

Birmingham Bike Foundry

The global credit union network grows its membership to nearly 300 million people. The World Council of Credit Unions urges the movement to demonstrate its potential to help people through the transition to a digital economy, and with the economic fallout from the Covid-19 crisis.

There are key co-op conferences – including the Co-op Party in the UK, and Impact 2020, hosted by US apex body NCBA Clusa. The events share a focus on how to drive equity and inclusion; and ways to put co-op ideas to work in rebuilding from Covid-19.


Co-ops and credit unions in the US congratulate Joe Biden on his victory in the presidential election. Mr Biden had made a number of co-op pledges in his manifesto and his known for his links with the credit union movement. 

French agri-food co-op Cooperl has warned there may be factory closures after it was hit with a multi-million euro fine for taking part in a price-fixing cartel. Twelve businesses were found guilty of price fixing cold meat products between 2010 and 2013.

Revolver Co-op, which imports Fairtrade tea and coffee, announces a new charity to help its grower communities around the world – starting with funding for immunisation against diseases such as typhus, malaria and cholera.


The Japanese co-op sector celebrates as national legislature passes a new law which allows for the formation of worker co-ops. The law follows years of lobbying by the country’s leading co-op bodies.

The International Cooperative Alliance’s Youth Network announces the winners of its replication project; nine youth-led ventures will receive funding, mentorship and training.

The Co-op Group rolls out the first in a new fleet of electric home delivery vehicles. It wants to phase out fossil fuels from its online delivery service vehicles by 2025.

John Chillcott is appointed interim CEO of the Co-operative College, to assist the organisation through a key transition period.

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