The issue of co-operative identity has been one of the biggest debates of the year.
The issue ranges from the Co-operative Group’s governance and accountability to the global ownership of a new COOP marque.
It is about to become an even more heated debate with Co-operatives UK’s draft judgement to allow the Co-operative Bank to use the ‘co-operative’ name.
At this year’s Congress in June, a whole session discussed what it means to be a modern co-operative and how to strengthen our collective identities. It was acknowledged
that co-operatives should pioneer new ways to do the right thing; stand together; and to be open and less insular.
Co-operatives are breaking new ground, and are pioneers in many areas. But is it a step too far to allow a non-co-operative to use the co-operative name?
As Paul Gosling highlights, the Co-operative College is not a co-operative, for example, but nobody would deny the right to its co-operative name. And there is also the precedent of Co-operative Travel being a part of the Thomas Cook group.
It is up to the Co-operative Bank to show that it does and will meet the draft guidelines set out by Co-operatives UK.
In his article, Paul also hints that there could be legal hurdles to jump through – not least of which is that the Bank has always been a plc under the Co-operative Group. Only the business secretary can deny the Co-operative Bank its name.
The complexity of the issue has been acknowledged by Co-operatives UK. It underlines that this is just a draft verdict and that it will monitor the Bank’s actions. But there is an opportunity for Co-operatives UK members to have an input into the decision: a consultation will also open up the debate even further towards the end of the year.
As leaders from co-operatives around the world come together for the biennial International Summit of Cooperatives, it will be refreshing to see executives and directors coming together to discuss many issues, including identity.
One of the reports to be discussed is from the international co-op and mutual body ICMIF. Its global reputation index looks at the positive public perception of co-ops. As Giles Simon writes this week, co-ops are strongly associated with sharing profits, as well as the long-term and sustainability.
These are all qualities that co-operatives can easily market as a co-operative difference. But there are even greater areas to capitalise on where the sector has weaknesses, which include being a good employer and financial performance.
This shows us that there are positive elements to being a co-operative, and this needs to be ammo against those co-operative leaders who want to downplay the co-op advantage.