New Zealand’s co-operative sector continues to grow

A recent United Nations study showed that New Zealand is the world’s most co-operative economy per capita. The survey, which looked at the social and economic impact of...

A recent United Nations study showed that New Zealand is the world’s most co-operative economy per capita. The survey, which looked at the social and economic impact of co-operatives, ranked NZ first out of 145 countries.

Co-operatives currently account for 4% of NZ’s GDP, employing 43,000 people and turning over AUD $41bn a year. The co-operative movement has a long tradition in NZ. The country’s oldest co-operative, FMG Insurance, was set up in 1905.

The financial services sector also includes Co-op Money NZ and the Cooperative Bank (NZ), which became co-ops in 1948. The Cooperative Bank (NZ) shares it profits with its 135,000 customers, while Co-op Money NZ represents the interest of the country’s credit unions and mutual building societies.

Chief executive of Co-op Money NZ, Henry Lynch, says: “With our Co-op Insurance NZ customers in mind, we pay out on 99% of all insurance claims. While our investigations weed out anything fraudulent, we take a positive view and look for ways to meet the claim.

“Co-ops are about people and our members are actively involved in supporting our communities through various programmes including helping out food banks, planting trees and sponsoring facilities,” Mr Lynch says.

Agriculture remains the biggest co-operative sector in NZ. Giant Fonterra is NZ’s largest co-operative. The country is a major exporter of lamb, beef and venison and this is also reflected in the nature of the activities of NZ co-ops. The Alliance Group is among NZ’s leading exporters, accounting for 15% of the world’s cross-border sheep meat trade.

“Our sustainable approach all along the line safeguards animal welfare, optimises nutrition levels and continues to meet an ever-changing global appetite,” says Alliance Group General Manager Marketing, Murray Brown.

Meat products branded Deep South are exported to 65 countries by the Alliance Group. NZ’s second largest primary sector exporter behind Fonterra is also a co-operative. Silver Fern Farms has over 16,000 sheep, cattle and deer farmer-shareholders who collectively own and operate 21 processing sites across the country and eight sales and marketing offices around the world. It is also one of NZ’s largest employers, providing jobs for 7,000 people at peak season.

The co-operative sector continues to grow in NZ. The newest co-op created is Te Patuwai Hapū Cooperative Society, which represents the economic interests of a Maori hapū (sub-tribe), a community just off the Eastern Bay of Plenty of NZ’s North Island.

“I had looked into the various options – a council (known as Rūnanga), trust board, charitable trust, incorporated society and company – but it was the co-operative structure which offered the most to our members. A co-op is not only a legal entity recognised internationally, it has a dimension of duality which suits both the Maori and western worlds here in Aotearoa-New Zealand. It recognises both our whakapapa (ancestral ties) and also clearly mandates who can speak on our behalf when we deal with the government, businesses, councils and others on matters affecting us,” said the co-operative’s vice chair and senior analyst, Ngarangi Chapman, who is also a member of the hapū. She is completing a Master’s thesis on optimal governance structures for hapū. The co-op was set up in October last year as a “community-based, multiple activity” and runs different economic and social activities to deliver prosperity for its members.

Nearing the first anniversary of becoming Cooperative Business NZ’s chief executive, international trade executive Ian Macintosh has seen the South Pacific nation’s co-operative sector thrive – and he knows why.

“NZ culture embraces co-operatives, groups of people getting together to get the job done,” he says.

“Kiwis like to keep things kiwi, and mutual and co-operative ethos is in our DNA. This could also be said of Maori, a culture that is closely aligned in its beliefs with the co-operative ethos, investing back into their community.”

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