Co-operatives and the Habitat II Conference (Note 10)

   This document has been made available in electronic format
           by the International Co-operative Alliance.
                           Background Information Note 10



                  PURPOSE OF HABITAT II

The United Nations Conference on Human Settlements will take
place in Istanbul, Turkey between 3 and 14 June 1996. It is the
second United Nations conference on this issue - the first was
held in Vancouver, Canada, in June 1976. The Secretary-General
of the United Nations has already dubbed the Conference "the City

Called for by the United Nations General Assembly in its
resolution 47/180, the Conference is intended to place
urbanization at the top of international and national development
agendas;  promote new policies and strategies for urban
management and housing development;  help solve urban
environmental problems;  and highlight needs and opportunities
for investment in infrastructure and services. The main themes
of the Conference will be "Sustainable Human Settlements in an
Urbanizing World" and "Adequate Shelter for All".

Its objectives include raising global and national awareness of
the positive role of cities and towns as centres of employment,
investment and trade, production and consumption, culture and
learning and civic spirit and social harmony, and as market
places and service centres for rural populations and rural
production.   Other objectives are to improve people's living
environments through new and more effective investments in
shelter and urban development, and to make the world's cities,
towns and villages healthy, safe, equitable and sustainable. 

The strategy for achieving these objectives consists of
stimulating partnerships for more effective resource mobilization
and investment; enlisting the participation of all key actors at
global, national and local levels; focusing on capacity-building
and strengthening local institutions; and documenting best
practices and harnessing all available technology, ideas and
information to develop new solutions. The private sector, local
and national governments, non-governmental and community-based
organizations are encouraged to forge new partnerships to
formulate and then to carry out new strategies designed to make
human settlements sustainable.

In each country committees, in which representatives of the
business community and civil society are encouraged to
participate with governments at local and regional as well as
national levels, are preparing national strategies. 
Internationally, representatives of the same major components of
the market and civil society are encouraged to support their
national members. They will present their own 'commitments' and
global strategies for incorporation in the draft Global Plan of
Action to be considered by the Conference.

Given its significance for almost all of the issues addressed by
the Conference, and the emphasis given to the full participation
of all elements of the market and civil society, the co-operative
movement will be expected to play a major role at local, national
and international levels, both in the formulation of strategies
to be considered by the Conference and in their subsequent


In its resolution 49/155, adopted on 23 December 1994, the
General Assembly recognized that ~co-operatives in their various
forms are becoming an indispensable factor in the economic and
social development of all countries~, as well as ~the  important
contribution and potential of all forms of co-operatives to the
preparations for and follow-up to~ the United Nations Conference
on Human Settlements (Habitat II).   It invited the Conference,
in formulating strategies and actions ~to give due consideration
to the role and contribution of co-operatives~.


Co-operative business enterprises are one of the most effective
means for the economic empowerment of citizens.  They are
people-centred and people-controlled organizational vehicles for
the participation by ordinary women and men in the market under
more advantageous conditions, and with more beneficial results,
than would otherwise be available to them. They are
democratically controlled by their members. Moreover,
co-operative enterprises tend to establish business groupings,
increasing thereby the economic empowerment of their members.

Their democratically managed representative organizations at
local, regional, national and international levels enable their
members to participate in societal management.  In these ways
co-operatives fulfil closely the requirements identified by
Habitat II for more participatory societal management.

Co-operative enterprises are concerned as a matter of principle
with the sustainability of the communities in which they operate,
because it is there that members and their families live, and
expect that their children and grandchildren will also live in
acceptable conditions. They are major contributors to economic
and social subsidiarity: being specifically intended to
concentrate local resources for the benefit of local communities,
intentionally avoiding loss to other areas. 

Because their goals and operational practices are established and
controlled by members who are concerned with the quality of the
communities in which they live, co-operative enterprises of all
types are particularly concerned with the natural environment,
both as producers and consumers. Co-operative movements have
taken the lead in many countries in introducing environmentally
sensitive products and activities, in influencing business
standards, in changing consumption habits, in diffusing
information and in lobbying for policy changes.

Co-operative enterprises contribute to the avoidance of poverty
among those individuals and communities at risk, and to the
alleviation and eventual eradication of poverty among those who
already experience it.  Production and service provision
co-operatives make possible viable entrepreneurial development,
and thereby the creation and protection of productive employment,
including self-employment, and consequent inflow of income.  
Savings and credit co-operatives, or credit unions, and
co-operative banks make possible affordable financial management,
including secure savings and accessible credit, frequently where
other institutions are unwilling or unable. Co-operative
insurance enterprises assist in reducing risks to individuals and
enterprises, a major protection against impoverishment, unlikely
to be provided by other institutions.

User-owned or consumer-owned co-operative enterprises make
available at affordable cost and in appropriate form a wide range
of goods and services. They provide utilities, particularly
electricity and water; services such as telephones, health,
education, social welfare, child-care and the care of infirm and
disabled persons; retail and associated wholesale and
distribution services; and housing. Community development and
other multi-functional co-operatives constitute a means whereby
entire neighbourhoods are able to combine resources to improve
local infrastructure and services and establish an environment
in which individuals are able to live in a more dignified manner.

All types of co-operative enterprise provide a supportive
environment, through employment, through special services, or
through common solidarity, whereby disadvantaged individuals and
communities are able to integrate with dignity within host
communities.  This is particularly valuable for migrants,
minorities and indigenous persons; the unemployed; young persons;
and persons burdened with disabilities and dysfunctional
conditions of all types.

Women in particular benefit from their membership of co-operative
enterprises, which provide them with employment, financial
security, improved legal and social status, protection from
violence, health and services, as well as inputs required by
women for the efficient operation of the microenterprises which
constitute the household sector.

These characteristics contribute significantly to the improved
quality of both the economies and the societies existing within
human settlements of all types. Although in many countries
benefiting the middle-income population, their greatest
significance in the effort to establish sustainable human
settlements lies in their provision of an organizational vehicle
for the improvement of the condition of the poor. Hence, they are
a significant organizational means for crisis solution and
sustainable development in the inner cities of developed market
economies, and in the settlements of developing market economies. 

In the transitional economies they have the potential to occupy
those functions from which state and parastatal agencies have
withdrawn, but which are unattractive to large-scale private
enterprise and require new forms of organization if small- and
medium-scale entrepreneurs and local communities are to enter.

A most important contribution to the sustainable future of human
settlements is through the contribution of co-operative
enterprises to the viability of rural economies and societies,
thereby reducing the involuntary and wasteful exodus of their
human resources and their resultant inefficient concentration in
the larger urban centres. Of greatest importance is their
capability - well established in many developed market economies
- for providing supply and marketing institutions owned by rural
producers and capable of increasing their market power, as well
as providing services, including financial services, owned by and
responsive to rural communities themselves. 

Moreover, by their contributions to poverty reduction, improved
health, better care for children and the advancement of women,
co-operatives of all types make a significant impact upon the
capability of women and men to alter their reproductive
preferences and behaviour in such a way as to reduce fertility,
thereby contributing to a more sustainable balance between
population, societal resources and the natural environment. 

For further information on Habitat II contact the Secretariat at
UNCHS(Habitat), P.O. Box 30030, Nairobi, Kenya; Tel: 254-2
623033; Fax: 254-2 623080; Internet:

This Note has been prepared jointly by the International
Co-operative Alliance and the United Nations Department for
Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development. For further
information contact the ICA at 15, Route des Morillons, 1218
Grand-Saconnex, Geneva, Switzerland. Tel: (+ 41 22)  929 88 88,
Fax: (+ 41 22) 798 41 22, E-mail:
                                            June, 1995