International News round up (11-25 February 2014)

EU/Strasbourg Policy makers and social entrepreneurs have met in Strasbourg to discuss the importance of social enterprises in the European economy. The conference resulted in the Strasbourg Declaration,...

EU/Strasbourg

Policy makers and social entrepreneurs have met in Strasbourg to discuss the importance of social enterprises in the European economy. The conference resulted in the Strasbourg Declaration, which calls on governments and public bodies to realise the potential of social enterprises for innovation, inclusive growth and jobs.

Speaking at the conference, Martin Schulz, president of the European parliament, said that no sector has been “as resilient as co-operatives during the crisis in Europe.”

Panellists also discussed the issue of innovation within co-operatives. Antonio Tajani, Commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship said that “social co-operatives, by nature, are an innovative model,” which “self-motivate all the time.”

The declaration reflects the contributions of the 2,000 delegates that took part in the conference and has been signed by over 390 people. The document is available in full online.

USA

The US congress has passed a new Farm Bill that could create a more favourable environment for agricultural co-operatives. The Bill sets out the country’s farm policy for the next five years and is likely to increase coordination between the US department of agriculture (USDA), federal agencies and co-operative organisations.

“We are pleased to hear that Congress has approved a new Farm Bill,”  said Michael Beall, president of NCBA CLUSA (National Cooperative Business Association’s Cooperative League of the USA). “We look forward to continuing our work with the USDA and others to fully implement the policies and programs approved by this legislation.”

Brazil

Today Brazil is one of the world’s main breadbaskets, and the country has been successful in eradicating hunger and bringing 20 million people out of extreme poverty. Co-operatives played an important role in this process.

A recent report by the ministry of development, industry and external trade confirmed agricultural co-operatives are thriving in Brazil, achieving a trade balance of USD $5.6bn (£3.4bn) last year. Co-operatives increased exports from 1.7% in 2007 to 2.5% in 2013.

Brazilian co-operatives have also managed to reach a wider variety of markets, with products reaching 143 different countries in 2013, up from 128 in 2012.

“This result shows that co-operatives have ensured their market share and are expanding their negotiations,” said Márcio Lopes de Freitas, president of the Organisation of Brazilian Co-operatives (OCB). “The products coming from our co-operatives are more highly valued, occupying shelves in Brazil and all over the world. Certainly, 2014 will be much better.”

International 

Co-operatives are one of the 20 business models that promote sustainability-related business model innovation, cited in a recent report by the think-tank SustainAbility. The report goes on to explain how co-operatives change the incentive system within a company to make members feel more invested in the company and its brands.

The report sought to look at how new and established companies are experimenting to embed sustainability into underlying business structure, giving several examples of successful enterprises, including: Amul, a diary co-operative in India; the Co-operative Group, the UK’s largest mutual business; John Lewis, a British employee-owned company that operates department stores; and REI, a consumer co-operative from the US.

Spain

While the unemployment rate in Spain increased to 26% in the third quarter of 2013, the number of worker co-operatives grew by 32%, compared to the same period last year. Data released by the Spanish ministry of employment and social security confirms that worker co-operatives have managed to not only maintain, but also increase the number of long-term jobs provided.

The number of worker co-operatives increased by 60% in Andalusia, 21% in Murcia and 11% in the Basque Country. Furthermore, over 80% of the employees of co-operatives have a steady job while women hold nearly 50% of the jobs and 40% of positions of responsibility.

Rwanda

Rwanda’s minister for trade and industry, François Kanimba, met with delegates from the Kingdom of Lesotho to help strengthen the co-operative sector in his country. The Rwandan government is exploring how co-operatives could help eradicate poverty and create jobs, building on the 5,000 established co-ops that already contribute to the wellbeing of more than two million people in the country. At the meeting delegates from the two countries looked at areas of collaboration such as co-operative training, supervision and regulation. The delegation of Lesotho will also be visiting agricultural co-operatives in Rwanda’s Northern Province, sharing experience of legislation, access to finance and value chain.

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