ILO Coop centenary symposium looks at how co-ops drive social justice and decent work

The ILO is a close partner of the co-operative movement

The ILO’s Co-operatives Unit marked its centenary with an International Symposium on 16-17 November on the role of co-operatives in driving social justice and decent work.

French co-operator Albert Thomas was the ILO’s first director general

The event offered an opportunity to look back on the important historical relationship between the ILO and the global co-operative movement. The first ILO director general, Albert Thomas, who was a French co-operator, set up the ILO’s Coop Unit in 1920, a year after the founding of the ILO. He argued that the ILO needed to concern itself not only with the conditions of work, but also with the conditions of the workers. “It is in the form of co-operation that this idea is best demonstrated,” he said at the time. Since being set up, the Unit has maintained a close relationship with the global co-operative movement.

In a video message to the Symposium, ILO director general Guy Ryder mentioned the “century-long relationship” between the ILO and the International Co-operative Alliance. He also highlighted to the important role co-operatives and the social and solidarity economy could play in rebuilding the economy post Covid-19.

“As at the founding of the ILO the challenging times of today call for solidarity in responding to the crises, building resilience and building back better. In troubled times the values of co-operation and mutualism are all the more recognised,” he said.

The ILO and the co-operative movement remain close partners – they signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2019.

“Today, in face of great uncertainly in transition, co-operatives and the wider social and solidarity economy can play a transformative, a vital role, for example they can contribute to formalising the informal economy, improving rural livelihoods, they can develop innovative responses in the platform economy, in restructuring failing enterprises and in building community resilience in the face of the pandemic,” said Mr Ryder.

ICA president Ariel Guarco also sent a video message to the Symposium, reiterating the movement’s commitment to working with the ILO to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges.

“It was Albert Thomas who also valued the contribution of co-operatives to improving the living conditions of workers in a context within which it was vital to have more just societies to promote peace in the world,” he said. “100 years later these and other challenges remain pressing and require us to strengthen our bond.”

The ILO has reflected the co-operative movement’s vision, values and interests in the Declaration on the Future of Work adopted last year, added Mr Guarco.

He also referred to the ILO’s Recommendation 193 on the Promotion of Cooperatives, which, he said, reflected the ICA’s revised Statement on the Co-operative Identity adopted in 1995.

“This recommendation is a fundamental instrument to strengthen the position of cooperatives with employers; organisations and workers’ organisations. In this challenging global context coops are determined to deepen our identity,” he said.

ILO launches new publications

Two publications were launched at the Symposium: a book on Cooperative Statistics and a retrospective issue of the Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics.

Statistics on Cooperatives Concepts, classification, work and economic contribution measurementbrings together updated versions of four background studies produced for the ILO and the Committee on the Promotion of Cooperatives (COPAC) in the process leading up to the adoption of the Guidelines concerning statistics of cooperatives at the 20th International Conference of Labour Statisticians (ICLS) in October 2018.

The book is aimed at statisticians and seeks to address the fact that data on co-operatives are collected in different ways, which makes comparisons difficult.

The authors hope the book, along with the guidelines concerning statistics of co-operatives, can be used by statistical offices across the world in their data collection implementation.

“Statistics on co-ops are important because co-ops play an important role in the economy,” said the book’s scientific editor, Marie J. Bouchard, pointing out that stats are needed to justify co-operative support and calibrate policies in support of co-operative and social and solidarity economy development. “Many countries lack harmonised data on co-operative.”

Hyungsik Eum, the ICA’s strategy and statistics coordinator, said the book and the guidelines were just “a starting point” and explained that co-operative movements and governments across the world had to work together to produce data on co-operatives.

The book was published by International Labour Office (ILO), the Committee for the Promotion and Advancement of Cooperatives (COPAC) and the International Centre of Research and Information on Public, Social and Cooperative Economy (CIRIEC). It is available here.

The retrospective issue of the Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics presents a selection of 12 key articles that have shaped contemporary understanding of co-operatives and the wider social and solidarity economy.

Co-operatives and sustainability

The contribution of the co-operative sector to meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals was one of the key topics at the Symposium.

Jürgen Schwettmann, independent consultant and former ILO official and COOP chief, thinks the movement should adopt a target focused approach and select co-op friendly targets out of the 169 targets featured in the 17 SDGs.

Rodrigo Gouveia, chief executive of Promo Coop, an international co-op consulting agency agreed. He argued that more specific indicators are needed to show how co-ops are helping to achieve the SDGs through deliberate strategies, rather than a mere accident. Sometimes co-ops can help to contribute to achieving the SDGs because it is in their nature to do so rather than because they have a real strategy to achieve the targets and goals of the SDGs, he said.

He called on co-ops to incorporate the SDGs in their commercial and social strategies, look at specific targets because they are better indicators than the goals, put that into their operational strategies. Co-ops have to communicate better about what they are doing and should engage more in coalitions with likeminded organisations like social economy actors or the Fairtrade movement, he added.

In closing the Symposium, ILO Coop chief Simel Esim said there was growing recognition and integration within the ILO’s various units of the role of co-ops and SSE in delivering the ILO’s mandate.  

The recordings of the two days are available in English, French and Spanish.

Day 1 English:

Day 2 English: