International Day of Co-operatives 2015: Choose co-operative, choose equality

On Saturday, co-operatives around the world will mark the International Day of Co-operatives. July 4, the first Saturday of July, will celebrate equality within the co-operative sector. In...

On Saturday, co-operatives around the world will mark the International Day of Co-operatives.

July 4, the first Saturday of July, will celebrate equality within the co-operative sector. In a statement, the International Co-operative Alliance said: “Equality is a fundamental value that ensures that all people can reap the benefits of economic and social development. Yet, we live in a world that remains rife with inequalities: according to recent data 0.7% of the world population holds 44% of all the wealth, while 70% only holds 3%. Everywhere there are still people discriminated against based on their gender, age, religion, or socio-economic condition, among other factors.”

It added: “Equality has been, since the beginning, a core value of the co-operative movement. By building co-operatives, people all over the world have chosen a democratic model of business that fosters equality.”

The Alliance statement said that in a co-operative, equality means three things:

  1. Membership is open and voluntary – without discrimination on any grounds – and each member has one vote, guaranteeing that the structure and control of the co-operative is equal. Unlike investor-owned companies, in a co-operative equality is a benefit of membership and is not linked to the financial capacity of the individual.
  2.  A co-operative works to satisfy the needs and aspirations of its members and for the sustainable development of society at large. The role of co- operatives in lifting millions of people out of poverty is undeniable – co-operatives distribute the wealth they create in a fairer and more equal way. As just one example, a co-operative project in Senegal has improved food security for 1 million individuals across 60 rural communities, improving household income by 250% and reducing the instances of underweight children by 35%.
  3. While performing their activities, co-operatives offer all individuals – producers, workers, consumers – the opportunity to: pursue their economic needs and aspirations; become better integrated into society; and have access to goods, services and benefits that they would not otherwise have. This culture of equality also allows co-operatives to reflect the diversity of the people they serve.

The Alliance statement further added that co-operatives focus on gender equality, giving opportunities to young people and integrating minorities in the labour market. Co-ops also help the transition from informal to formal economies; reduce the wage gap; give economic power to the poor; and allow equal access to fundamental resources like water, energy, education and financial services.

To conclude its statement, the Alliance called on governments to promote “national action and innovation to redress inequalities”, and urged the United Nations and the international community to build equality into the heart of its on-going work to set a Post-2015 Development Agenda, including a framework to address the challenges and risks of climate change, that takes into account the role and contribution of co-operative enterprises.

Dame Pauline Green, president of the Alliance, said: “Equality is about empowerment. It is about allowing each individual to strive to reach their potential without discrimination on the basis of gender, race, religion, sexuality or physical impairment. Equality is about a cultural, social and legislative environment that encourages tolerance and a greater understanding of those things that human beings share, rather than what divides them.

“It is about the state understanding that its role is to steward, promote and support rather than to dictate, enforce and punish. Co-operatives make equality possible because they provide people with a formal way of earning their living, benefiting from legal protection and increasing their participation and engagement in the work environment. Such empowerment of people provides a challenging but exciting way to a better balanced, sustainable future in the workplace, encouraging individuals to have the greater self-assurance that comes from decent employment where their voice is heard.”

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