Sweden launches national apex body for co-operatives

Leaders of the movement say the country has a “worrying lack of knowledge” of the co-op model and wants to raise awareness

A national apex federation has been created for Sweden’s co-ops to “modernise” the image of the business model there.

Co-operatives Sweden, launched on 11 May, was set up by Federation of Swedish Farmers (LRF), the Swedish Co-operative Union (KF), the HSB co-operative housing association and the KFO Employers’ association. It brings together for the first time consumer, producer, worker and housing co-ops.

Sweden’s top 100 co-operatives employ 100,000 people and have an annual turnover of SEK 400bn. The new organisation’s chair, Anders Källström, wants to see this increase.

Anders Kallstrom, chief executive of LRF

“Co-operative businesses are remarkably common at global level. Sweden is actually something of an exception, as the country is home to a comparatively a small number of co-operative businesses,” he said.

“We believe that this is due to a worrying gap in knowledge about this way of doing business in Sweden – which is a situation we are keen to change.”

Alongside Mr Anders Källström – who is also chief executive of LRF – the board of Co-operatives Sweden includes Tommy Ohlström, chief executive of KF (deputy chair); Liza Nyberg, chief executive of Landshypotek; Pernilla Bonde, chief executive of HSB Riksförbund; Leif Linde, of Riksbyggen and chair of the Board of KFO, and Per Olof Nyman, chief executive of Lantmännen.

The co-operative movement has a long history in Sweden, with the first consumer co-ops set up in the 1890s. By 1899 more than 200 consumer co-operatives had been established. But Jan Edén, business executive of the new federation, said the co-operative enterprise model was not well-known in Sweden and the organisation will work to improve its profile.

“We are myth busters,” he added. “There is, for example, a very common misconception that co-ops do not need to be profitable. We want to provide members, employees and the general public with a more relevant view of the co-operative form of enterprise.”

Asked what was the best way of reaching out to the public, Mr Edén said: “We can’t tell people that we are good and we are making a difference. You don’t tell people anything, you show them and let them decide.”

Tommy Ohlström, chief executive of KF and deputy chair of the board of Co-operatives Sweden, said: “There is a natural place for the co-operative form of business in today’s market economy. The Swedish economy needs diversity, because it is essential to ensure that different forms of business can compete on equal terms.

“Co-operation is the most durable and sustainable form of business of all, and it is profitable for members and companies alike”.