UN Acknowledges Co-ops Effectiveness

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   This document has been made available in electronic format
           by the International Co-operative Alliance.
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       International Day of Co-operatives, 6 July 1996

                                             Background Note #1
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Acknowledgement by the United Nations of the Effectiveness of
Co-operative Enterprise as a Means for Creating Productive
Employment, Overcoming Poverty and Achieving Social Integration
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Recent broad acknowledgements by the General Assembly and ECOSOC
The highest policy-making intergovernmental bodies of the United
Nations, the General Assembly and the Economic and Social
Council, have long acknowledged the significance of co-operative
enterprises as means of achieving the goals which are common to
the United Nations and to the co-operative movement.  Since 1950
the Assembly has adopted 12 resolutions to this effect, and the
Council adopted 13.  The importance of co-operatives has been
noted also in a number of other resolutions, concerned with
issues such as agricultural development, people's participation
in development and promotion of private enterprise.

For example, the General Assembly, in resolutions 44/58 (adopted
in 1989), 47/90 (1992) and 49/155 (1994), referred to the "broad
significance" of co-operatives "in contributing to the solution
of major economic and social problems".  In the latter it
recognized that "co-operatives in their various forms are
becoming an indispensable factor in the economic and social
development of all countries".  In resolutions 47/90 and 49/155
the Assembly encouraged governments "to consider fully the
potential of co-operatives for contributing to the solution of
economic, social and environmental problems in formulating
national development strategies."

In a message addressed in 1995 to all 760,000,000 individual
members of the International Co-operative Alliance on the
occasion of the 73rd International Co-operative Day (the first
to be observed simultaneously as the United Nations International
Day of Co-operatives) the Secretary-General, Boutros-Boutros
Ghali, quoted from his latest report to the General Assembly: 

     "Co-operative enterprises provide the organizational means
     whereby a significant proportion of humanity is able to
     take into its own hands the tasks of creating productive
     employment, overcoming poverty and achieving social
     integration.  They constitute a model for a people-centred
     and sustainable form of societal organization, based on
     equity, justice and solidarity."  The Secretary-General
     observed that "by so effectively looking after your own
     interests and resolving your own problems through energetic
     and creative self-help you help make our societies a better
     place for present and future generations."

Broad acknowledgement in recent major international conferences 
The General Assembly, in resolution 49/155, recognized "the
important contribution and potential of all forms of
co-operatives to the preparations for and follow-up to the World
Summit for Social Development, the Fourth World Conference on
Women and the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements
(Habitat II)".  It invited the conferences "in formulating
respective strategies and actions, to give due consideration to
the role of co-operatives."

At the World Summit, held at Copenhagen in March 1995, a
"Copenhagen Declaration" and a "Copenhagen Programme of Action"
were adopted.  Heads of State and Government signatories of the
Declaration committed themselves to "Utilize and develop fully
the potential and contribution of co-operatives for the
attainment of social development goals, in particular the
eradication of poverty, the generation of full and productive
employment and the enhancement of social integration" (Commitment
9, sub-para (h)).

At the Fourth World Conference on Women, held at Beijing in
September 1995, a "Beijing Declaration" and a "Beijing Platform
for Action" were adopted.  The latter calls upon "... civil
society, including ... the private sector to join with
Governments and the international community to take strategic
action in a number of critical areas of concern" (para 44).

Member States, preparing for Habitat II, to be held in June 1996,
agreed upon most elements of a draft "Goals and Principles,
Commitments and Global Plan of Action", known as "the Habitat
Agenda" (set out in document A/CONF.165/L.I of 12 April 1996). 
This states that "partnerships ... among all actors ... from
public, private, voluntary, and community-based organizations,
the co-operative sector, non-governmental organizations, and
individuals are essential to the achievement of sustainable human
settlements development" (para.20 (Principle VII)).  It proposes
that the United Nations system should "intensify ... cooperation
with non-governmental organizations, voluntary groups and
community associations, and the private and co-operative sectors
in sustainable human settlements development" (para. 157(d)).

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Coincidence of the values and principles on which recent
international strategies are based and the long-held values and
principles of the co-operative movement
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The strategies adopted at Copenhagen and Beijing, and that
prepared for Habitat II, support co-operative enterprises within
the context of an emphasis upon community-based, people-oriented,
fully participative and democratic forms of societal management
and sustainable development.  They emphasize adherence to basic
values, recognizing specifically an ethical approach to business. 
They stress sharing of responsibility, solidarity, empowerment
and enablement, particularly of those disadvantaged in respect
to entrepreneurial opportunity and access to resources.  Full
participation by all in societal management is identified as a
key factor, as is citizens~ ability to form their own
representative organizations.  These are precisely the same
values and principles that have formed the basis for co-operative
enterprise and the co-operative movement for the last 150 years.


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Specific acknowledgement of co-operative enterprises as means
whereby citizens are better able to become effective partners
with governments and other stakeholders
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Each strategy identifies the co-operative movement as one among
key stakeholders in the partnerships considered essential if
goals are to be achieved.  The Copenhagen Programme of Action
proposes that the contribution of civil society, including the
private sector, to social development can be enhanced by
"enabling and encouraging farmers' representative organizations
and co-operatives to participate in the formulation and
implementation of sustainable agricultural and rural development
policies and programmes" (para. 86(d)).

The draft Habitat Agenda states that "an enabling strategy,
capacity-building and institutional development should aim at
empowering all key actors, particularly local authorities, the
private sector, the co-operative sector, trade unions,
non-governmental organizations and community-based organizations,
to enable them to play an effective role in human settlements
planning and management" (para. 130).  To formulate and implement
policies that promote enablement, Governments at all levels
should "employ broad-based participatory and consultative
mechanisms that involve representatives from public, private,
non-governmental, co-operative and community sectors, at all
levels in the policy development process" (para. 50(a)).

The draft Agenda notes that ~although the structural causes of
the problems have often to be dealt with at the national and
sometimes international level, progress will depend to a large
degree on "... the forging of partnerships at all levels of
government with the private sector, the co-operative sector,
non-governmental and community-based organizations, workers and
employers, and civil society at large" (para 39).

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Recognition of the need for a people-centred sustainable
development and hence for adjustment in economic structures
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All three strategies consider that organizations which are
"people-centred" are essential means whereby the energies of all
citizens may be applied to achievement of sustainable
development.  Each recognizes that, while changes at the
macroeconomic level are essential, change in economic structures
at the meso- and micro-levels are equally important.   Thus the
Copenhagen Programme of Action notes that eradication of poverty
will require "...changes in economic structures in order to
ensure access for all to resources, opportunities and public
services" (para.23).  It proposes that Governments encourage
"employers and workers to consider ways and means for enhancing
the sharing of workers in the profits of enterprises and
promoting cooperation between workers and employers in the
decisions of enterprises" (para.54(f)).

In their Beijing Declaration Governments express their
determination to "promote people-centred sustainable development"
(para.27).  The Beijing Platform notes that "it is indispensable
to search for new alternatives that ensure that all members of
society benefit from economic growth based on a holistic approach
to all aspects of development ... including solidarity and
participation" (para. 14).  It notes also that "the eradication
of poverty ... will require democratic participation and changes
in economic structures in order to ensure access for all women
to resources, opportunities and public services" (para 47).

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Co-operative enterprises as quintessential economic structures
for a people-centred development
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Co-operative business enterprises are quintessentially the
"people-centred" organizations called for by each of the three
strategies.  They are precisely the types of "alternative
economic structures" which the intergovernmental community
considers necessary to complement and, if appropriate, replace
other forms of economic organization in order to help resolve
problems of unemployment, poverty and social disintegration.

The Copenhagen Programme of Action proposes that Governments, in
cooperation with financial and other international organizations,
should "further promote policies enabling small enterprises,
co-operatives and other forms of micro-enterprises to develop
their capacities for income generation and employment creation"
(para.91).  It calls for strengthening a number of organizations,
including "community-based and workers' co-operatives, especially
those run by women... in order to improve market access and
increase productivity, provide inputs and technical advice,
promote cooperation in production and marketing operations, and
strengthen participation in the planning and implementation of
rural development" (para. 31 (g)).

The Beijing Platform proposes that Governments, particularly in
order to benefit women agricultural and fisheries producers,
"encourage the development of producer-owned, market-based
co-operatives" (para.58(n)).  Financial intermediaries, national
training institutions, credit unions, non-governmental
organizations, women's associations, professional organizations
and the private sector should "strengthen the participation of
women, including marginalized women, in production and marketing
co-operatives by providing marketing and financial support,
especially in rural and remote areas" and to "promote and
strengthen women~s co-operative enterprises" (para. 176(d)(e)). 

In order to strengthen women's economic capacity and commercial
networks Governments should "adopt policies that support business
organizations, non-governmental organizations, co-operatives,
revolving loan funds, credit unions, grass-roots organizations,
women's self-help groups and other groups in order to provide
services to women entrepreneurs in rural and urban areas;" and
~adopt policies that create an enabling environment for women's
self-help groups, workers' organizations and co-operatives
through non-conventional forms of support and by recognizing the
right to freedom of association and the right to organize" (para.
175 (a)(c)).

The Habitat Agenda proposes that "within the overall context of
an enabling approach" Governments should support
"community-based, co-operative and non-profit rental and
owner-occupied housing programmes" (para.44 bis (c)(iii)).  To
provide opportunities for small businesses and for the
micro-enterprise and co-operative sectors, Governments, in
consultation with non-governmental organizations, community-based
organizations, and financial and vocational training
institutions, should "promote and strengthen programmes that
integrate credit, finance, vocational training and technological
transfer programmes in support of small and micro-enterprises and
enterprises in the co-operative sector, particularly those
developed and utilized by women" (para. 114(b)); "promote
training for small and micro-enterprises and enterprises in the
co-operative sector and support them in their efforts to improve
their products, services, technology and distribution networks
and to identify new market opportunities" (para. 114(e));
"facilitate the role of local authorities in forming partnerships
with the private, community and co-operative sectors and
institutions for local enterprise development" (para. 140(h));
and "develop policy guidelines and programmes that encourage and
actively pursue the involvement of women's groups in all aspects
of community development related to environmental infrastructure
and the provision of basic urban services, and encourage women's
own co-operatives as well as their membership in other
co-operatives" (para. 90(c)).

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Co-operative financial enterprise as means to access capital and
services for entrepreneurial development
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The Beijing Platform of Action calls upon financial
intermediaries, national training institutions, credit unions,
non-governmental organizations, women's associations,
professional organizations and the private sector to "promote and
strengthen women's micro-enterprises, new small businesses,
co-operative enterprises, ... and strengthen the participation
of women, including marginalized women, in production and
marketing co-operatives by providing marketing and financial
support, especially in rural and remote areas."  They are also
to "encourage community organizations and public authorities to
establish loan pools for women entrepreneurs, drawing on
successful small-scale co-operative models" (para. 176).

The draft Habitat Agenda proposes that "to establish an effective
financial base for urban development, Governments, including
local authorities, in co-operation with trade unions, consumer
organizations, business, industry, trade organizations, and the
financial sector, including the co-operatively organized business
sector and non-governmental organizations, should formulate and
implement fiscal policies that stimulate a broad range of urban
employment opportunities" (para 112).  To provide opportunities
for private investment and productive employment within
comprehensive urban planning Governments should take action "in
consultation with workers' and employers' organizations, chambers
of commerce, industry, trade and consumer organizations,
professional associations and the financial sector, including the
co-operative sector" (para.113). 

It proposes also that Governments should create new housing
finance mechanisms, in part by harnessing "the potential of
non-traditional financing arrangements by encouraging communities
to form housing and multi-purpose community development
co-operatives, especially for the provision of low-cost housing";
encouraging "in particular, by removing legal and administrative
obstacles, the expansion of savings and credit co-operatives,
credit unions, co-operative banks and co-operative insurance
enterprises";  supporting "partnerships between such co-operative
institutions and public financing institutions as an effective
means to mobilize local capital and apply it to local
entrepreneurial and community activity for housing and
infrastructure development"; facilitating "trade unions,
farmers', women's and consumers' organizations, organizations of
people with disabilities, and other associations of the
populations concerned to set up their own co-operatively
organized financial institutions and mechanisms" and supporting
"non-governmental organizations and their capacity to foster the
development of small savings co-operatives." (para.
62(a)(c)(d)(e) and (g)).

Implementation of the Habitat Agenda would require additional
financial resources: to this end multilateral and bilateral
donors are invited to support national efforts "to pursue
enabling strategies through which governments, local authorities,
communities and the private and co-operative sectors can form
partnerships" (para.150(i)).  Cooperation should be strengthened
between "Governments at all levels, community organizations,
co-operatives, formal and informal banking institutions, private
enterprises and international institutions, with the aim of
mobilizing local savings, promoting the creation of local
financial networks and increasing the availability of credit and
market information to low-income individuals, women, and
vulnerable and disadvantaged groups for shelter and human
settlements development" (para.150(s)).

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Co-operative enterprises as means for creation of productive
employment
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The Copenhagen Programme of Action proposes that, in order to
enhance opportunities for the creation and growth of private
sector enterprises that would generate additional employment, a
number of actions are required, including "promoting and
supporting and establishing legal frameworks to foster the
development of co-operative enterprises, and encouraging them to
mobilize capital, develop innovative lending programmes and
promote entrepreneurship" (para.51(e)).

The Beijing Platform proposes that Governments should "enhance
rural women's income-generating potential by facilitating their
equal access to and control over productive resources, land,
credit, capital, property rights, development programmes and
co-operative structures"; and "establish appropriate mechanisms
and encourage intersectoral institutions that enable women's
co-operatives to optimize access to necessary services"
(para.166(c)(f)).

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Co-operative enterprises as means to alleviate, avoid and
eventually eradicate poverty
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The Copenhagen Programme of Action proposes "strengthening and
improving financial and technical assistance for community-based
development and self-help programmes, and strengthening
cooperation among Governments, community organizations,
co-operatives, formal and informal banking institutions, private
enterprises and international agencies ...;" and "strengthening
a number of types of organization, including community-based and
workers' co-operatives, especially those run by women, in order
to improve market access and increase productivity, provide
inputs and technical advice, promote cooperation in production
and marketing operations, and strengthen participation in the
planning and implementation of rural development" (para. 31). 
Urban poverty should be addressed by "promoting and strengthening
co-operative enterprises" (para. 34).

The draft Habitat Agenda proposes that to combat poverty
Governments, including local authorities, in partnership with all
relevant actors, including workers and employers organizations,
should "promote and strengthen productive enterprises, including
micro-enterprises and small-scale private and co-operative sector
enterprises and expand market and other employment and training
opportunities for women, men and youth, including people with
disabilities, and, where appropriate, strengthen the linkages
between the informal and the formal sectors" (para.89(e)).

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Co-operative enterprises as means to promote social integration
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The draft Habitat Agenda proposes that Governments, including
local authorities, should promote social integration "in close
collaboration with non-governmental organizations,
community-based organizations, the co-operative sector and public
and private foundations" (para. 88).  To eradicate legal and
social barriers to access to land, Governments should take
actions "in partnership with the private sector, non-governmental
organizations, the co-operative sector and community-based
organizations" (para.58).

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Participation by the international co-operative movement in the
following-up recent major global conferences
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Each of the strategies sets out procedures whereby progress made
will be monitored so that implementation may be reviewed and
adjusted.  They specify that representatives of the co-operative
movement should participate.  The Copenhagen Programme of Action
proposes "formulating or strengthening by 1996 comprehensive
cross sectoral strategies ... including ... actions taken in
partnership and cooperation with actors of civil society, the
private sector and co-operatives with specific responsibilities
to be undertaken by each actor, and with agreed priorities and
time-frames" (para 83).  The "support and the participation of
major groups as defined in Agenda 21 are essential to the success
of the implementation of the Programme of Action" (para.100). One
major group identified by Agenda 21 is "Business and industry".

The Beijing Platform for Action states, in respect to
institutional arrangements for follow-up, that "the active
support and participation of a broad and diverse range of other
institutional actors should be encouraged, including legislative
bodies, academic and research institutions, professional
associations, trade unions, co-operatives, local community
groups, non-governmental organizations, including women~s
organizations and feminist groups, the media, religious groups,
youth organizations and cultural groups, as well as financial and
non-profit organizations" (para. 295).
                                                              
Details are included in an information paper with the same title
obtainable from the Focal Point for the Promotion of
Co-operatives, Room DC2-1348, UN Secretariat, New York, New York
10017, USA (FAX 212 963 3062). It has been included by ICA on the
Internet at gopher://wiscinfo.wisc.edu:70/11/.info-source/.coop
and at http://www.coop.org   The strategies are to be found at
Web site: http://www.un.org/dpcsd