Definition, Values and Principles of Co-ops

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  This document has been made available in electronic format by
         the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA)
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              FOURTH WORLD CONFERENCE ON WOMEN : 
         ACTION FOR EQUALITY, DEVELOPMENT AND PEACE 
            BEIJING, CHINA, 4 - 15 SEPTEMBER 1995

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        THE CONTRIBUTION OF CO-OPERATIVE BUSINESS ENTERPRISE
            AND THE INTERNATIONAL CO-OPERATIVE MOVEMENT
           TO ACHIEVEMENT OF THE STRATEGIC OBJECTIVES OF
                  THE DRAFT PLATFORM OF ACTION *
       *****************************************************

                      New York, March 1995


PREPARED JOINTLY, PURSUANT TO GENERAL ASSEMBLY RESOLUTION 49/155,

       BY THE INTERNATIONAL CO-OPERATIVE ALLIANCE AND 
    THE UNITED NATIONS DEPARTMENT FOR POLICY COORDINATION 
                AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

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


DEFINITION OF A CO-OPERATIVE BUSINESS ENTERPRISE AND THE VALUES
AND PRINCIPLES OF THE INTERNATIONAL CO-OPERATIVE MOVEMENT
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The International Co-operative Alliance, which is an independent,
non-government association which unites, represents and serves
co-operatives world-wide, has been the final authority for
defining co-operatives and for elaborating the principles upon
which co-operatives should be based. In the 1930s, and again in
the 1960s, the Alliance has made two formal declarations on co-
operative principles. Each were attempts to explain how co-
operative principles should be interpreted in the context of the
contemporary world. For its Centennial Congress to be held at
Manchester, United Kingdom, in September 1995, the Alliance has
again prepared a "Statement on Co-operative Identity". The draft
to be considered and adopted at the Congress includes a
definition of co-operatives, a listing of the movement's key
values, and a revised set of principles intended to guide co-
operative organizations at the beginning of the twenty-first
century.

The "Statement on Co-operative Identity" provides the following
definition of a co-operative :

"A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united
voluntarily to meet their common economic and social needs
through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled
enterprise."

"Co-operatives collaborate locally, regionally, nationally, and
internationally in federations, alliances and other joint
activities so that they can meet member needs most effectively."

The "Statement" Continues with a section on values :

"Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, mutual
responsibility, equality and equity. The practice honesty,
openness and social responsibility in all their activities."

In introducing its section on principles, the "Statement" notes
that co-operatives reflect the values already stated by applying
a number of principles as general guidelines for their
activities. These principles are :

"Membership. The primary purpose of co-operatives is to serve
their members and, as applicable, non-members, in a prudent and
effective manner. Within their capacity to admit members, co-
operatives are open on a voluntary basis, without political,
religious, gender or social discrimination, to all who can
contribute to, and benefit from, their activities."

"Democracy, Co-operatives are democratic and participatory
organizations actively controlled by their members. In primary
co-operatives, members enjoy equal voting rights, on a one
member, one vote basis. In co-operatives at other levels,
administration is conducted and control is exercised in a
suitable democratic manner. Men an women responsible for the
administration of co-operatives involve members, managers and
other employees, according to their roles, in making decisions
and setting policies."

"Financial structure. Members contribute equitably to the capital
of their co-operative and share in the results of its operation.
Usually, at least a portion of a co-operative's capital is owned
collectively, intended to further the long-term purposes for
which the co-operative exists. Co-operatives may pay interest on
their capital; they compensate employees fairly, according to the
standards of the society in which they exist. Members allocate
surpluses for any or all of the following purposes : (a)
developing the business of the co-operative; (b) benefiting
members in proportion to their involvement with the co-operative;
and (c) encouraging the further development of the co-operative
movement."

"Education. Co-operatives foster reciprocal, ongoing education
programmes for members, leaders and employees so they can teach
- and learn from - each other in understanding and carrying out
their respective roles. Co-operatives have a responsibility to
inform the general public, particularly young people and opinion
leaders, about the nature of the co-operative movement."

"Co-operation among Co-operatives. In order to best serve the
interests of their members and their communities, co-operatives
actively co-operate in every practical way with their co-
operatives, locally, regionally, nationally and internationally."

"Autonomy. Co-operatives are autonomous, mutual-help
organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into
agreements with governments and other organization, they do so
freely, on mutually-acceptable terms that ensure their autonomy".

"Community. Co-operatives are concerned about the communities in
which they exist. While focusing on member needs, they strive for
the sustainable development of those communities through policies
that are respectful of the environment and acceptable to the
membership."