The guidance was presented at the International Co-operative Alliance global conference in a session entitled ‘Values and Principles: The core of co-operative identity’.
The principles address matters of membership, democracy, education and concern for community, and were first set down in 1844 by the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers. Since then they have evolved to become a globally recognised set of values.
Since 2011, a group of Alliance directors and advisors has been working on new guidance for the principles. Jean-Louis Bancel, the chair of the Alliance Principles Committee, explained that neither the principles nor these guidance notes were set in stone. The notes “are a statement of our understanding of the principles now, but they are living documents, not static,” he said in his introduction to the notes.
“[They] aim to state our understanding of the application of the principles in contemporary terms for the 21st century.”
The Alliance has also released the Governance Paper, comprising ten studies into how co-ops are governed and the process of decision making within co-ops. Dame Pauline Green, outgoing president of the Alliance, said the Governance Paper “gathers leading thought from around the world and across sectors to reflect on the balance between rigidity and flexibility we must achieve in our governance strategies and practices.”
She said the guidance was long overdue. “In recent years, much to the delight of co-operators, the principles have gained in recognition and acknowledgement around the world,” she said.
“They are now quoted in public policy documents, United Nations and International Labour Organisation texts, and are appended or integral to national legislation in many countries.
“When in 2011 the Americas Region of the Alliance proposed that consideration be given to amending the 7th principle, the impact this would have globally became plain to see.”
The debate in 2011 led the Alliance to recognise that it needed a process for amending the principles, so it established the Principles Committee. It also recognised the need for updated guidance on application of the principles to governance and operation of co-ops, and tasked the committee with supervising its preparation.
“Co-operators believe that the people of the world should not be subjected to threat from the global economy, such as that of 2007,” said Dame Pauline. “They believe that a more diversified and pluralistic global economy is one way of ensuring that any future threat of this sort will be minimised.
“The alliance is determined that a constructive and interactive dialogue should be encouraged between public authorities and co-operatives in support of that greater diversification through the healthy growth of co-operative enterprises at every level of the global economy. We trust that this document will be the catalyst for this.”
Jean-Louis Bancel added: “The principles are not inscribed in stone, nor are they rigid rules to be followed; they are the sound ethical principles to be applied with vision and proportionately according to the national economic, cultural, social, legal and regulatory context and particularities within which each co operative enterprise operates.
“A co-operative is the only form of entrepreneurship organisation with such an international agreed and recognised definition, values and principles. The principles make a valuable difference.”
The notes give detailed guidance and advice on the practical application of the principles to co-operative enterprises. They aim to encapsulate the knowledge and expertise of the current generation of co-operators for the benefit of the next.
“We also hope that they will be a world-wide resource for co-operative educators and learners and for others seeking to understand how the principles are to be applied in practice,” added Mr Bancel.