Co-operatives should make their voice heard in the emerging debate in global institutions about inequality, according to Sandra Polaski, deputy director general of the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO). She claims the movement should take the opportunity to promote its business model more strongly.
”As values-driven, principle-based enterprises, co-operatives are natural and important partners in creating good-quality employment and in giving voice and representation to those who have often found themselves excluded from democratic decision-making,” she told her audience at the Quebec co-operative Summit this week.
Ms Polaski was at the summit to offer the ILO’s perspective on co-operatives’ role in employment creation. She reminded her audience that the ILO has taken a close interest in co-operatives ever since 1920, a year after its founding. “Both the co-operative movement and the ILO came from the same value system, facing the same set of challenges in the late 19th and early 20th centuries,” she argued. “We are siblings”.
She praised the Summit organisers for including employment issues as a theme of the event but she also threw down a challenge to ensure that jobs in co-operatives met standards for what the ILO calls decent work. “Of particular importance would be reaching a better understanding as to how co-operative enterprises can ensure respect for fundamental principles and rights at work, including the core right of freedom of association, the elimination of forced labour and the worst forms of child labour and combating discrimination in co-operatives themselves and in their suppliers,” she told her audience.
The global role of co-operatives in employment generation was underlined at Quebec by the launch of a new research study from the producer and worker co-operative federation CICOPA. The report Cooperatives and Employment: A Global Report suggests that at least 250 million jobs are provided worldwide by co-operatives. “The co-operative business model doesn’t know its own strength,” said CICOPA Secretary General Bruno Roelants presenting the report.
Nevertheless, with 200 million people currently unemployed and many hundreds of million of young people also set to join the labour force in the next fifteen years, an estimated 670 million new jobs will need to be created between now and 2030, according to Sandra Polaski. “As global attention focuses on these challenges, co-operatives must play a significant role expanding into new and innovative areas—from health care and high technology to recycling and renewable energy—providing people with employment, know-how, inputs, finance, products and services at fair prices,” she said.
She also stressed the role of co-operatives in helping to formalise jobs in the informal economy. The position of workers working informally is a major topic of discussion at the ILO at present in the run-up to a likely agreement on an international labour standard next year.