The Rochdale Principles of Co-operation (1937)

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

Source : The Present Application of the Rochdale Principles, Studies and Reports, ICA,
London, 1964, 24-25.

            The Rochdale Principles of Co-operation

In concluding their Report the Special Committee desire to
express their conviction that The Enquiry into the Present
Application of the Principles of Rochdale Co-operation,
decided upon by the Congress of Vienna, has confirmed - what
the superficial evidence of general observation and knowledge
gained from reports and publications of National Movements has
always manifested - that the Consumers' Co-operative Movement
of the world is generally, but insufficiently and
incompletely, based upon the Principles laid down by the
Weavers of Rochdale in the statesman-like constitution and
subsequent practice of the Rochdale Society of Equitable
Pioneers in 1844. It was inevitable that within the spheres of
forty national movements, each interpreting standard doctrines
according to their mental or racial habitudes, and influenced,
to however small an extent, by the legislative and commercial
customs of their respective countries, there should develop
some variations in the application of even such universally
applicable Principles as those of Rochdale. Taking a broad
view of the whole field of Co-operation as revealed in the
replies to the Questionnaires, and with the reserve that in a
few instances and in some countries rather acute divergences
have been revealed, the Committee feel that there is good
ground for satisfaction that the character of mutuality and
solidarity of our peculiar economic system has been so fully
maintained. It would appear that these Principles contain the
essential principle of life which is the highest test of their
genuineness. Today the basis of Rochdale exhibits the
essential elements of a new economic system capable of
replacing, and we believe destined to replace, the evils of
the competitive capitalistic system in civilised society.

We have endeavoured to exclude matters that appeared to us
extraneous to the subject matter of the enquiry, with the
result that the Report deals only with the questions of first
importance to co-operation. We have endeavoured to place the
ideal basis of society outlines in the `Law First' of the
Rochdale Rules, and also its historic framework, in correct
perspective as secondary to the main Principles, without which
the true co-operative basis cannot be assured.

The Committee, having now had the fuller opportunity of
examining the additional evidence provided by the Wholesale
Societies of Consumers, Workers' Productive Societies,
Agricultural Co-operative Societies, Credit Societies and Co-
operative Banks, desire to express their conviction that the
seven Principles as set out at the beginning of this Report
still represent the essential basis of the Rochdale System,
and that nothing in the modern developments of industry and
commerce, or changes in economic method, has diminished their

In the course of the survey of these Principles, the Committee
have indicated their view as to the necessity of a less rigid
interpretation of certain Principles in those types of
organisations which, in their constitution and operations,
while genuinely co-operative, necessarily differ from the
simple form of consumers' societies for whose conduct the
Rochdale system was established.

They are further of opinion that it is necessary to express
the Principle of `Dividend on Purchase' in a generalised form
more in consonance with the variety of activities to which it
is sought to apply it. They, therefore, submit the following
as calculated to meet the needs of the case.

The Committee are of opinion that there should be some
discrimination in the importance to be attached to these seven
points in deciding the essential co-operative character of any
Society or organisation. They suggest that the observance of
co-operative principles depends on the adoption and practice
of the first four of the seven Principles, viz.,

1.   Open Membership,

2.   Democratic Control (One Man, One Vote),

3.   Distribution of the surplus to the members in proportion
     to their transactions,

4.   Limited Interest on Capital.

In the opinion of the Committee, the remaining three
Principles, viz.,

5.   Political and Religious Neutrality,

6.   Cash Trading,

7.   Promotion of Education,

while undoubtedly part of the Rochdale System, and
successfully operated by the Co-operative Movement in the
different countries, are, however, not a condition for
membership of the I.C.A.