Co-operatives and Sustainable Human Development

This document has been made available in electronic format
     by the International Co-operative Alliance ICA
                     January 1996

      Co-operatives and Sustainable Human Development

by Bruce Thordarson*

Congress Introduction

At the ICA's Tokyo Congress in 1992, delegates passed a resolution which
put three new demands upon the ICA.  They asked the Alliance:

1.   To strengthen its role as an information centre regarding
environmental and developmental issues;

2.   To establish its own Special Fund for Sustainable Development in order
to be able to expand its activities; and

3.   To work with its member organisations and specialised agencies towards
the development of a Co-operative Agenda 21, which would demonstrate how
co-operatives are meeting the environmental challenges set out in the Rio
Declaration of 1992.

The Congress Report which you have before you today is the summary of the
efforts which have been made in this direction during the last three years.

Without wanting to repeat the points made in this Report, I would like to
limit this introduction to a few general observations.

The first is that the environment for co-operative development has changed
considerably in the last few years greatly since 1992, and enormously since
1988, when the ICA's Stockholm Congress also debated this issue.  In the
ICA's  Stockholm Congress Report, we stated that, "If there is one
fundamental obstacle to the long-term growth and success of co-operatives
in the South, it is their continued dependence upon, and in many cases
control by, national governments."

Although this problem has not disappeared, the situation is certainly much
better today.  In some cases, Structural Adjustment Programmes have imposed
changes upon governments.  But equally importantly, I believe, is the fact
that many governments have come to realise that co-operatives must be given
autonomy and independence if they are to be successful in carrying out
their basic purpose of serving the interests of their members.  I think we
can also say, with due modesty, that the ICA Regional Offices have
contributed significantly to this change in attitude, which is reflected in
new legislation in many countries of the South.

A second major development is that co-operatives have regained much of the
credibility which they lost during the difficult years of the 1980s.  One
sees manifestations of this change of attitude in the biennial reports of
the UN Secretary-General, which have never been so positive about
co-operatives, and in the decision of the UN General Assembly to declare a
Special International Co-operative Day this year in honour of the ICA.  One
sees it in the increased willingness of the World Bank to support
co-operative initiatives, such as the major conference on Strategic
Alliances being organised by the ICA Regional Office for the Americas in
Miami later this year.  And one sees it in much of Eastern and Central
Europe, where co-operatives have demonstrated that they can not only
survive but also compete successfully in the new market economies.

A third change worthy of note is that the concept of development has
changed considerably since 1992.  The idea of "Sustainable Human
Development" is likely to remain at the forefront of development thinking
for many years.  It brings together the concepts of economic progress,
social equity, and environmental preservation as three equally important
and necessary elements.  As the Congress Report says, and demonstrates,
this is a concept of development which is perfectly suited to

This in fact leads to a fourth point, which is that the concept of
Sustainable Human Development is not of relevance only to the North, or to
the South, but is equally important in all parts of our planet.  Government
withdrawal from previous activities, the dominance of market forces, the
problems of social exclusion, and the growing environmental dangers all are
present in developing as well as in developed countries.  If, as I suspect,
Sustainable Human Development becomes a permanent part of the ICA and
co-operative agenda, it will be a truly global issue.  One demonstration of
this is that the ICA's new European Region has already decided that
Sustainable Human Development should be one of the priorities of its future
work programme.

This leads us, finally, to the specific recommendations which the ICA is
presenting at this Centennial Congress and General Assembly to its member

The first, in response to the 1992 Congress Resolution, is a Co-operative
Agenda 21, which has been prepared on the basis of what co-operatives are
doing today, and what they have the potential to do in the future.  It is
not a set of rules, but rather a set of guidelines which can be used by all
sectors to monitor how they are contributing to these global challenges.
It also demonstrates how co-operatives are already leading the way in
innovative activities within many sectors and in many countries.

Finally, the ICA is proposing to establish a special Trust Fund which would
enable it to expand its activities in co-operative development and
environmental promotion.  This proposal is contained at the end of the
Resolution on Co-operatives and Sustainable Human Development, presented by
the ICA Board, which can be found on page 114 of the yellow pages in the
English-language Congress Report, as well as in the other language
versions.  We hope that ICA members, and others, will be prepared to
contribute on a regular basis to this fund, not only as a tribute to the
ICA's Centennial but also as a testimony to their faith in the ability of
co-operatives to contribute to the major economic, social, and
environmental challenges of the next century.

With these words of introduction, Mr. Chairman, I would like to ask my
colleagues from the regions to provide some more detailed information about
the work of ICA and its member organisations.

* Mr. Thordarson is Director-General of the ICA in Geneva.