ILO and ICA Collaborate (1997)

This document has been made available in electronic format
by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA)
Dec., 1997
(Source: ICA Review, Vol.90 No.4, 1997, pp. 23-26)

ILO and ICA Collaborate
by Michel Hansenne*  

It is with real pleasure that I have accepted the invitation of the 
Co-operative Alliance to this opening ceremony of its General Assembly.

This invitation is, for me, a reflection of the common attachment of the ICA
and the ILO to social justice and economic progress for all workers,
including those who come together in co- operatives in order to improve
their income and living conditions.  The ILO's interest in co-operatives
began at its creation; today it is implemented through a specific programme
belonging to a branch within our Enterprise Department.

At the beginning of the century, both co-operatives and trade unions
constituted an economic tool available to organised workers.  In fact, there
has often existed, both then and now, a close link and sometimes coinciding
interests between members of trade unions and members of co-operatives. 
Many worker production, manpower, and service co-operatives have been
created with the support of trade unions, even though the nature of this
relationship has undergone many changes through the years and in different
regions.  But this subject remains topical, and I see that it will be discussed
during your General Assembly.

Furthermore, other co-operatives maintain close relations with employers'
organisations, or have even seen the light of day thanks to their active

In some countries, especially in developing countries and in the former
countries in transition, co-operatives were basically created by public
authorities, which has resulted in serious problems linked with their lack of

In keeping with these different and evolving situations, as well as deep
changes in the world economy, the ILO's co-operative programme has also
evolved considerably.  This evolution can be characterised by three major

From 1920 to 1951, our activity was designed to provide indirect support to
co-operatives in industrialised countries by means of various studies,
research activities, spreading of information, and maintenance of linkages,
even though these were fairly far away from the co-operative organisations

From 1952 to 1968, the programme became heavily involved in technical,
consultative services in developing countries, generally through the sending
of experts to these countries.  No fewer than 100 missions were carried out
during this period in 65 countries.

Since 1969, there has been a third period characterised by a new orientation,
dictated by the adoption, by the 50th session of the International Labour
Conference, of Recommendation Number 127 concerning the role of
co-operatives in economic and social development in the developing
countries.  This has resulted in a considerable expansion of technical
co-operation activities in support of co-operatives and their organisations. 
Furthermore, a higher priority was accorded to small, co-operative-like
associations which respected co-operative principles and whose purpose
was the promotion of self-reliance in the interests of their members.

The co-operative programme, which represents a considerable percentage
of the ILO's technical co-operation operations, is based on three strategic
orientations which our Governing Body has for some time identified as
priorities for the whole Office.  These are: protection of democracy and the
fundamental rights of workers, promotion of employment and the struggle
against poverty, and finally the protection of workers.

The promotion of democracy at the local and national levels is at the centre
of the concerns of the programme, which adheres to the universal
co-operative principles of respect for self- management, democratic control,
and independence.  This sometimes leads to the drafting or re-writing of
co-operative legislation and policy.  For many years the ILO, just like the
ICA, has frequently been called upon to provide advice and to develop
proposals in this field.  Within the framework of the democratisation
process, the ILO has also adopted Convention Number 169 on indigenous
and tribal peoples, which supports their organisation into co-operative-type
or mutualist enterprises  in order to meet their basic economic and social
needs while still preserving and recognising their own values and

Finally, the ILO believes that the issue of equality of opportunity and
treatment between men and women is an essential element in economic and
social development, and recognises that co-operatives, by their democratic
nature, are an efficient means of promotion which guarantees equitable
access to social and economic activities (education, training, health, credit)
and an equal participation in the management of economic affairs and in
decision-making.  In this area, too, the co-operative branch works with the
ICA, notably in the development and application of policies and
programmes in favour of women co-operators.

As they produce more goods and services, co-operatives have not failed to
assume their own vital function of job creation.  One can see the truth of this
statement in many African countries, where co-operative movements have
become the second-largest employer after the state.  And still, no doubt
more than ever, they constitute a kind of human and business organisation
capable of bringing appropriate and efficient answers to the challenges of
today's world.

The ILO's co-operative programme also includes an important component
designed to break the vicious circle of poverty.  It has conceived, tested,
and popularised a methodology and techniques for local participatory
development which have enabled rural populations, often the poorest, to
become involved in a responsible, competent, and productive manner in
local-level economic and social activities.  In addition to activities directly
linked to production, these disadvantaged groups, organised in
co-operative-like associations, have become involved in activities designed
to satisfy their very diverse, basic needs such as food security, housing,
drinking water, and elementary education.

As for workers' protection, many mutuals which are part of the Social
Economy, like co-operatives and associations, benefit from the support of
a recent inter-regional programme of the ILO dealing with social services
and carried out in partnership with the NGO "World Solidarity".  This new,
large-scale programme is in line with the recommendations of the World
Summit on Social Development held in Copenhagen in 1995.  Its goal is to
provide the most disadvantaged people with an efficient social protection
based on their own existing dynamics of self-organisation.

In keeping with one of the fundamental co-operative principles - access to
education and professional training of members and elected leaders of
co-operatives - human resource development activities have been carried out
by our programme on a world-wide level, promoting at the same time social
justice and economic performance.

In this way, through individual responsibility for achieving a joint project,
all co-operatives offer their members the possibility of democratic
participation to achieve economic and social progress as producers,
consumers, or providers of services.  This is what constitutes the strength
and the originality of co-operative action, explains its universality, and 
demonstrates its relevance irrespective of the society's level of development.

In a more and more global economy, it also has the capability and the will
to be concerned with the respect of workers' fundamental rights, so that
market forces alone do not dictate their requirements to the detriment of
social aspects of development.

The ILO is pleased that co-operative action adheres to the conviction that
social justice passes necessarily through the urgent necessity of a
recognition and universal respect of a certain number of fundamental rights
of workers.  

The report which I presented to the International Labour Conference in June
1997 on the normative action of the ILO in the era of globalisation includes
proposals designed to guarantee the respect of these fundamental rights,
which include the freedom of trade unions, the right to organise and
negotiate collectively, the elimination of forced work and child labour, equal
remuneration between men and women for work of equal value, and the
elimination of discrimination in the workplace and within professions.  

The Governing Body of the ILO will decide during its November session if
the agenda of the June 1998 Conference should include the question of a
formal declaration reaffirming these fundamental rights, along with a
follow-up mechanism.

I am myself convinced that the whole co-operative movement, through its
initiatives, could have an indirect but nevertheless considerable influence
on this crucial debate for the protection of the rights of workers, and
consequently the values which the ICA shares with the ILO.  I invite you,
the co-operators here today, to join in this fundamental debate.

You may be certain that the ILO will continue to support your efforts to
provide services and develop programmes designed to strengthen the
creation of productive employment, with those organisations which wish 
to collaborate, in order to provide a more equitable distribution of work and
income, and to provide social and quality health services at the best possible

The ILO also commits itself to pursuing with you the efforts already
underway to mobilise local financial resources for productive purposes,
conserve and protect vital natural resources, create and spread new
techniques, and develop commercial exchanges on the basis of a shared

It is desirable that the ILO and the ICA put even more effort into the
intensification of this productive collaboration, and that their joint
participation in the work of the international Committee for the Promotion
and Advancement of Co-operatives (COPAC) continue.  

I am thinking in particular about the preparation of the UN Secretary-
General's report on co-operatives and about the guideline document on
government policies concerning co-operatives which he will present to
the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1999.

I can assure you that the ILO remains ready for more intense collaboration,
and I wish all ICA member organisations represented here, as well as the
members of its secretariat, a most successful General Assembly.

* Michel Hansenne is the Director-General of the International Labour
Organisation in Geneva