COPAC Open Forum - Background and Agenda

                     COPAC OPEN FORUM

                 Copenhagen, 7 March 1995


COPAC has organized a number of meetings of this kind and on this
occasion was fulfilling its essential role:  the bringing
together of world-level representatives of co-operatives and
farmers' organizations with representatives of the United Nations
and its various specialized organizations. At the September 1994
COPAC Meeting in Paris, the Committee decided that an Open Forum
should be organized in Copenhagen to coincide with the Word
Summit for Social Development.  The present special event was
offered by the Summit Secretariat to the International Co-
operative Alliance (ICA), and the ICA agreed that this was the
opportunity for COPAC to organize the planned Open Forum.  The
focus was on co-operatives and farmers~ organizations;  both of
these broadly-based representational and participative
organizations are present at world level in the Committee.


The World Summit on Social Development was seeking ways in which
member countries of United Nations could realize the
possibilities of sustainable social and economic development,
both individually and together, in regional and global

Experience has shown that the State cannot achieve these aims for
a nation;  the private sector economy must provide the engine of
economic development on which the possibility of social
development depends, while the function of the successful State
is to be a minimal governor of the engine in the interest of the
majority of the population. It must also be noted that in
addition to the quantitative aspect of an economy~s performance
(growth of GNP per capita, etc.), there is such a thing as the
quality of the economy. Behind aggregate economic indicators a
variety of possible scenarios of differing qualities may exist.
Wealth may be produced by capital-intensive activities alongside
mass unemployment, or by labour-intensive activities providing
large-scale employment.  Economic indicators may mask greater or
lesser income disparities.  Of particular relevance for today~s
debate is the fact that a large number of economic activities in
the private sector may be either in the hands of third party
shareholders, or be owned by the clients and/or the workers
involved in the activities. Numerous national constitutions
recognize participative ownership of co-operative enterprises as
a specific public good. The essential nature of the public good
is twofold: large sectors of the population, instead of being
inert and passive in the market, are proactive in seeking to
create economic utilities and avail of economies of scale by
going into business together. They are individually and
collectively self-reliant and thereby create social capital.
Secondly, their action and presence in the market can actually
change the nature of the market itself, because a different ethic
is introduced. In Denmark, for example, the purpose for
investment by farmers in their co-operatives is not to maximise
return on capital, but to provide the services they need at the
best prices, and to maintain their proactive position in the
market.  Since co-operatives are so important, it may be said
that the prevailing ethic of the rural economy of a country like
Denmark is self-help and mutual help. Where there are no co-
operatives, investment in mills, abattoirs dairies, etc. is
motivated by maximising return on capital provided by third
parties which means that the motivating ethic of enterprises in
the rural economy is totally different.

Social services were often created by reformers to assist the
victims of the robust free enterprise engine of the industrial
revolution.  It is not the purpose here to adopt the pessimistic
view that the free enterprise engine must produce its casualties,
and that more and more governmental social services will be
needed to handle the fallout. On the contrary, present conditions
do not provide the resources to continue the social services of
earlier decades, and new ideas are perforce in the air. This
often means in practice a reappraisal of old ideas, since we
cannot reinvent the wheel. Many co-operatives and farmers~
organizations came into being in response to economic hardship,
many of them in Europe in the wake of hungry forties of the last
century. The present difficult conditions in many areas may call
forth authentic new responses, while pseudo-co-operative
structures created from above down in the decades of relative
abundance may wither away. A more dynamic view of development is
in the air in the United Nations and its specialized Agencies.
Sustainability is the watchword, and the active involvement of
representative organizations of civil society in creating social
capital is sought.

COPAC members are committed to the participative way of economic
development, achieved by large numbers of people with a need in
common: setting up their own organizations to satisfy the need. 
If and when this is achieved, a high quality economic activity
enters the market, simultaneously achieving economic and social
development. Denmark is justly world famous for its remarkable
success in co-operatives and farmers~ organizations, and it is
of interest to know how and why the people of this densely
populated country cooperated together so successfully.

The programme was quite a full one and speakers~ time was limited
in order to allow enough time for debate. The following
suggestions were offered to make the debate fruitful:

*   How can co-operatives and farmers~ organizations be more
involved in national and international programmes for sustainable
*   What specific opportunities exist for greater collaboration
(programmes, projects, conferences, etc.), in follow up of the
Social Summit?
*   What can COPAC members and Secretariat do to strengthen the
participation of co-operatives, farmers~ organizations and
similar broadly-based representational and participative bodies
from key sectors of the economy and the population in the
programmes of action resulting from the Summit?
*   In view of the many failures in transferring successful
experiences in the organization of co-operatives and farmers~
organizations from one country to another, are there any new
ideas, success stories, lessons or guidelines that participants
may suggest for the future?

Agenda of the Open Forum

     Welcome Address by COPAC Vice-Chairman: Mr. Christopher E.
     'Co-operatives, Farmers~ Organizations and Sustainable
     Development': Mr. Nitin Desai, United Nations Under-
     Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Sustainable
     "The Contribution of Co-operatives to Global Action
     designed to expand Productive Employment, Alleviate and
     Reduce Poverty, and Enhance Social Integration":  Mr. Bruce
     Thordarson, Director-General, International Co-operative
     Alliance (ICA)
     "Danish Co-operatives and Farmers' Organizations: their
     Contribution to Sustainable Development":  Mr. Bent Claudi
     Lassen, President, Federation of Danish Co-operatives
     "Farmers' Organizations and Sustainable Development":
     Mr. Graham Blight, President, International Federation
     of Agricultural Producers (IFAP)
     Brief introduction to the theme of discussion: Mr.
     Tristram Eastwood, COPAC Executive Secretary
     Open Forum
     Summing up and Closing by COPAC Vice-Chairman