Executive Summary

   This document has been made available in electronic format
      by the International Co-operative Alliance ICA

  Contribution of Co-operative Enterprise and the International
       Co-operative Movement to Implementation of UN AGENDA 21:
        Programme of Action for Sustainable Development 

                      Prepared jointly by
              the International Co-operative Alliance
                       the United Nations
   Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development

                  Geneva and New York, April 1995

        For information purposes only. Not an official
   document of the United Nations and not officially edited.

                     EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

    The paper is intended to present background information on
the actual and potential contribution of co-operative enterprise
and the international co-operative movement to the achievement
os sustainable development and specifically to activities called
for in Agenda 21, a contribution not widely known.

    Recent reports by the Secretary-General to the General
Assembly have noted that co-operative enterprises play a
significant role in sustainable development.  The General
Assembly, in its latest resolution (49/155), encouraged
Governments to consider fully the potential of co-operatives for
contributing to the solution of environmental problems.

    Co-operative enterprises are particularly suited to the
achievement of sustainable forms of development: a fundamental
principle of the international co-operative movement is that such
enterprises are concerned about the sustainable development of
the communities in which they exist by means of policies that are
respectful of the environment.   Members of co-operatives are
able to ensure, because they are the owners, that their
enterprises adopt sustainable business goals and practices.   Co-
operatives have adopted an environmental ethic in their business
transactions, and in some countries have taken the lead.

   This is of particular significance given the dimensions of the
co-operative movement:  at present about 800,000,000 women and
men are members of a co-operative enterprise - with their
immediate family members this involves over 3,000,000,000
persons, more than half of the world's population.   The economic
weight of co-operative enterprises is also substantial -
estimated to be contributing up to 20 per cent of GNP in some

    International and national representative organizations of
the co-operative movement are currently working on their own "co-
operative Agenda 21". Many agricultural, consumer and financial
co-operatives have their own sustainable strategies.

    A major contribution to sustainable development is that of
helping to eradicate, alleviate or avoid poverty in both rural
and urban areas. Co-operative enterprises create and protect
productive employment, thereby ensuring a flow of income to
members and their communities. They do so by promoting and
facilitating the creation of business enterprises, improving
access to natural resources and to commodity, service, finance
and labour inputs, as well as to marketing systems.

    Co-operatives also ensure that households are provided with
affordable goods and services of acceptable quality.   Financial
co-operatives - credit unions, co-operative banks and co-
operative insurance enterprises - facilitate effective management
of household finance. Housing, education, health, utilities,
social services and community development co-operatives make
possible acceptable living conditions.

    By these means, and through more appropriate technology and
organization, co-operatives contribute to sustainable agriculture
and rural development. They help protect and conserve natural
resources and to manage fragile ecosystems.   Supply and
marketing co-operatives, in conjunction with rural financial co-
operatives, are major and integral components of the rural
economies in most advanced market economies, and are growing in
importance in many developing economies. They provide an
organizational vehicle complementing farmers' own organizations.

   Co-operative enterprises are a form of economic empowerment
which leads to social and political empowerment.  Co-operatives
are increasingly active in promoting women's advancement. This
is closely associated with expanding involvement of co-operatives
in child-care and health.

   Wholesale and retail consumer-owned co-operatives, which
occupy a significant place in many developed market economies,
are playing a significant role in changing consumption patterns. 
 Here and in other areas significant for sustainable development,
the co-operative movement fosters wide public awareness and
provides relevant education and training.   The co-operative
media reaches very high proportions of the world's population.

   The international co-operative movement has a major and
largely unknown technical assistance component, consisting of
highly motivated and experienced movement-to-movement activities.
Trade between co-operatives has a specific environmental

   Finally, co-operative movements at national and international
levels are developing valuable partnerships with governments, the
non-co-operatively organized business sector and civil society
for the purposes of common work to achieve sustainable

    The co-operative movement, because of its inherent concern
with sustainability, because of its global dimensions, democratic
structure and coherent organizational presence in almost all
countries, has the potential of becoming a major partner with
governments, intergovernmental organizations, the non-co-
operatively organized business community and civil society in
pursuit of sustainable development.