The Global Dimension of Co-ops (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.73-76)

The Global Dimension Dimension of Co-operatives
by John Langmore*

I am pleased and very much honoured to have been asked to address
this, the General Assembly, of the International Co-operative Alliance.

Today, co-operatives operate successfully in practically every country
and are involved in every form of activity: in agriculture and fisheries,
manufacturing, banking and insurance, retail and wholesale trade; also
in housing, and, increasingly, in such areas as health and social care.
Since the establishment of the first co-operative store by the
Rochdale Pioneers, the co-operative  model, and derivatives of
it, have spread throughout the world. Co-operative enterprises
now count about 800 million women and men as member-owners;
half the population of the world is  involved or affected by some
form of co-operative activity.  What an impressive record!

The United Nations recognized at its inception the significance
of the international co-operative movement and its special character,
when it accorded Category I consultative status to the International
Co-operative Alliance. Since then the General Assembly adopted
13 resolutions specifically concerned with co-operatives, calling
upon Governments to promote and support the movement.  Several
of the 13 resolutions adopted by the Economic and Social Council
also call for close collaboration between the UN and your Alliance.

The core aims of the co-operative movement and those of the UN
coincide.  In the UN Charter's elegant formulation, a core aim
of the Organization is to "promote better standards of living in
greater freedom".  If I might encapsulate the essential aims of
the co-operative movement, these would be: to promote the
material conditions and well-being of members through their
acting in concert; and to give members a greater say over their lives
through their voluntary association in organizations controlled
freely and democratically by their members.

You will, no doubt, recall that member States represented at the
World Summit for Social Development, as well as at the Fourth
World Conference on Women, and the United Nations Conference
on Human Settlements (Habitat II) responded to the General
Assembly's invitation to give due consideration, in formulating
respective strategies and actions, to the role and contribution
of co-operatives.  They not only  acknowledged the important
role of the co-operative sector but included numerous references
to co-operative enterprises in the commitments made and
strategies adopted. In the Copenhagen Declaration on Social
Development, Heads of State and Government 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".

May I here mention that, in a previous function, before joining the
UN Secretariat, I was involved as a member of my country's delegation,
Australia, in the World Summit for Social Development, in Copenhagen.
I can testify personally to the importance many delegations accorded to
the co-operative movement's contributions, past and anticipated in
support of the Summit's objectives.

As most of you will know, the United Nations is a founder member of
the Committee for the Promotion and Advancement of Co-operatives. 
This is a unique arrangement, in that it brings together, in an equal
partnership, the UN and two other intergovernmental organizations,
namely ILO and FAO, on the one side, and, on the other, four
international non-governmental organizations -  the International
Co-operative Alliance, the World Council of Credit Unions, the 
International Federation of Agricultural Producers, and the
International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel,  Restaurant,
Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations. 

I am pleased to say that the Division which I now head has represented
the UN in COPAC from its beginning. I need not tell you that the first
Saturday in July each year has been observed by the International
co-operative movement, starting as long ago as 1923, as International
Day of Co-operatives.  But, in case some of you do not know, let me
give you the news that since 1995 the UN has also observed this day
as International Day of Co-operatives.

In his message for the Day this year, the Secretary-General of the UN,
Kofi Annan stated that: "Millions of men and women have secured for
themselves and their dependents a life of dignity, economic well-being
and expanding opportunities by joining together in co-operative ventures
throughout the world".  Today, as governments at all levels find it difficult
to meet the rising demands of their populations for many essential
services, a partnership with co-operative enterprises provides an effective
alternative and complementary means to satisfy basic social needs.

We are today witnessing profound changes in the world scene of social
actors.  Until recently, in  the post-second world war era, States were  the
central actors in the international arena.  Their supremacy has come to be
challenged, increasingly, by private, giant, transnational corporations.  A
growing power also has been  the so-called Third Sector, different from the
State and the market, composed of a multitude of actors of the so called
civil society.  These non-governmental organizations participate ever more
forcefully in discussions with Governments at local, national, and
international levels, including at the United Nations.

The opening of the United Nations to actors of civil society has interesting
implications for possible future arrangements for active participation and

The Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, in his introduction to his report of 14
July 1997 on "Renewing the United Nations: a Programme for
Reform" stated: "The United Nations is a noble experiment in human
co-operation. In a world that remains divided by many and diverse
interests and attributes, the United Nations strives to articulate an
inclusive vision: community among nations, common humanity among
peoples, the singularity of our only one Earth." 

Discussing the context in which all international organizations operate,
the Secretary-General noted that the expanding transnational network of
non-governmental organizations encompasses virtually every sector of
public concern, from the environment and human rights to the provision
of micro-credit, and is active at virtually every level of social organization,
from villages all the way to global summits. " Success requires that the
United Nations devise effective means by which to collaborate with 
institutions of civil society, thereby amplifying the impact of its own
moral, institutional and material resources." Accordingly, the Secretary-
General is making arrangements for all United Nations entities to be
open to, and work closely with, civil society organizations, and to
facilitate increased consultation and co-operation between the United
Nations and such organizations.

The Secretary-General has also called these Organizations,  "key
operational partners and implementing agents", recognizing  their
operational competence, flexibility and knowledge of local conditions,
as well as complementary resources which they themselves bring to
humanitarian programmes. 

Thus, as an essential step to a  reformed United Nations, the Secretary-
General wishes to initiate a series of meetings with leaders of civil society,
including academicians, representatives of organized labour, many different
non-governmental organizations, including foundations.  Leaders of the
international co-operative movement will certainly be included.

The Secretary-General has also encouraged all substantive departments
of the UN Secretariat to designate a non-governmental organization liaison
officer to facilitate access by civil society to the United Nations. At the
country level, where appropriate, the United Nations system will create
more opportunities for co-operation with civil society. Training
programmes for United Nations staff will include a component dedicated
to co-operation with civil society. This will be reflected in the curricula of
the new United Nations Staff College.

The presence of non-governmental organizations in intergovernmental
bodies could help create a "political space" which would encourage a more
robust exchange of views on issues of development and social progress.

We encourage the NGOs in status with the Economic and Social Council
to participate more actively in the work of the Commission for Social
Development.  Such participation could be organized in a variety of ways:
May I suggest the following (NGOs may have their own ideas to put
forward and we welcome their suggestions):

-	The Commission could provide a forum for broad categories or clusters
	of NGOs to get together on specific issues, coordinate more actively
	their activities, and make joint presentations to the Commission.

-	A steering committee of non-governmental organizations could be a
	useful mechanism to promote a continuous dialogue in between the
	annual sessions of the Commission.

-	There is a suggestion that NGOs be allowed the right to "question"
	government delegations.

-	A forum of civil society, that is, a separate parallel, conference of
	NGOs, could meet each year, prior to the General Assembly, to discuss
	current global issues. It would offer direct access for organizations of
	civil society to the United Nations system. 

*  Mr. Langmore is the Director of the Division for Social Policy and
    Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs at the
    United Nations in New York.