How the ICA Contributes to the Aims of the United Nations

The International Co-operative Alliance:  A Community of Co-operators

How ICA Contributes to the Aims and Objectives of the United Nations

Economic and Social Development

The International Co-operative Alliance, a non-governmental organisation,
founded in 1895 has over its nearly 100 year existence brought
co-operatives from all parts of the world together.  Today its membership
includes 237 national and international co-operative organisations
representing over 700 million individuals. The mission of the ICA is to
unite, represent and serve co-operatives worldwide.  The priority areas of
work of the ICA are identified by its members whether these be in the area
of co-operative development for movements in Africa, Asia and Latin America
aimed at improving the economic and social situation of members of
co-operatives, their community and their nation or in areas in which
co-operatives can contribute to the solution of major or global concerns
including the promotion of sustainable development or the advancement of

However, through their work for economic and social development the members
of ICA have achieved salient progress in peace-building, environment and
sustainable development, human rights, human settlements, education and
health, the advancement of women and protection of children, cultural
development, food security and humanitarian assistance, thereby
contributing to UN aims and objectives.  ICA members are active in all
economic sectors - including agriculture, the consumer sector, banking,
fisheries, industry, insurance, housing - and also provide education and
training, and in some cases health services.

Co-operatives are business enterprises owned by their members, managed and
operated by means of their democratically organised participation, for the
purpose of providing them, as either producers or consumers or both,  with
benefits which they themselves have identified.  These self-help people's
organisations have a long list of accomplishments which demonstrate their
contributions to the well-being of civil society and to national

This presentation aims to give an idea of the types of activities in which
ICA and its members have been involved.  Specific examples are cited while
not exclusive, they are simply presented to show how co-operatives have
contributed to progress in each of the categories.

Peace and Security

The promotion of peace and security is closely linked to the basic concept
of co-operation.  ICA at its first International Congress in 1895 evoked
the links between the work of the co-operative movement and peace, "thus
our co-operative movement will be found to be the needful supplement to the
grand idea of freedom of commerce amongst all people, and the most certain
pledge of a future reign of peace amongst nations when co-operation has
reached its full development"1. This pledge to peace was reiterated
throughout the history of the ICA but most eloquently proclaimed in the
Glasgow Peace Resolution, (1913):

The Congress emphasises once more that the maintenance of peace and
goodwill among all nations constitutes an essential condition for the
development of Co-operation, and the realisation of those ends which are
aimed at by this movement.  The Congress further desires to impress upon
the public opinion of all nations the fact that the reasons for the
continuance of armaments and the possibility of international conflicts
will disappear as the social and economic life of every nation becomes
organised according to co-operative principles, and that, therefore, the
progress of Co-operation forms one of the most valuable guarantees for the
preservation of the world's peace.

ICA continued to work for mutual understanding and toleration among peoples
of different ideologies throughout the first World War.  It continued to
publish its Journal, the Review of International Co-operation, in which
articles appeared on the war-time importance of national co-operative
movements.  In addition, consideration was given to various ways in which
the ICA could contribute to the economic recovery of the war-torn nations
as well as to contribute to a World Settlement which would ensure freedom,
security and universal peace.

Practical activities undertaken by the ICA to promote peace included
influencing the general public as demonstrated by the adoption of a motion
regarding the organisation of peace rallies as early as 1948:

The Congress urgently appeals to the Co-operators of the World to raise
their voices in the defence of peace, free progressive development of all
the co-operative movement, independence of nations and close collaboration
between peoples.  The Congress calls all national co-operative
organisations to celebrate the traditional International Co-operative Day
by mass meetings in their respective countries in support of peace and

ICA also influenced decision-makers and governments as well as
contributing to the work of the League of Nations prior to contributing to
the work of the United Nations5. Representatives of both organisations
attended ICA Congresses and made statements recognizing the importance of
the co-operative movement in promoting economic and social development as a
prerequisite to peace-building.

The ICA survived the two World Wars and its members were to demonstrate the
strength and solidarity of the co-operative movement once reconstruction
began (see section - Humanitarian Assistance).

The achievements of the ICA during the Cold War also demonstrated its
propensity as a peace builder.  Despite ideological and political
differences between its members, the activities of the ICA continued.
Resolutions identifying priorities of work for the organisation were based
on negotiation and compromise.  During the Cold War period the functioning
of the ICA reflected its basic principles in action - political

On a more individual level, ICA promotes international understanding and
respect.  Participating in global, regional and local meetings convened by
ICA, members of co-operatives interact with persons from other backgrounds.
They learn to work together for common aims.  Co-operatives, particularly
those in urban areas, also promote social cohesion by bringing together
persons of distinct backgrounds, regardless of race or religious beliefs,
for a common aim - housing, consumer interests, etc.   The solidarity of a
co-operative organisation allows people better to understand and respect
each other - thus diminishing social tensions and building peaceful

Environment and Sustainable Development

The United Nations Agenda 21 notes that, "...The greater the degree of
community control over the resources on which it relies, the greater will
be the incentive for economic and human resource development" .
Co-operatives, as people's organisations, are therefore, ideally placed to
implement activities dealing with the protection of the environment as well
as with sustainable development questions.  The protection of the natural
and human environment is a key issue for the survival of future generations
and an important concern of co-operators worldwide.

Co-operatives have been concerned with environment and development issues
for decades8.  However, in October 1992, the ICA Congress adopted a
Declaration on the Environment and Sustainable Development.  The
Declaration reaffirms co-operatives' commitment to action in promoting
sustainable development practices in all sectors of activity, citing the
preservation of the natural environment, the importance of promoting
environmental education and the need to influence government policy in the
area of environment and development.  The Declaration also recommended a
compilation of member activities into a Co-operative Agenda 21,  which is
currently being reviewed by ICA members and the specialized bodies of the
ICA.  It will be adopted at the ICA Centennial Congress in 1995.

It should be noted however that, above all, co-operatives, due  to their
member orientation, have an enormous potential for raising public awareness
through the education and training of  their members and the communities in
which they serve.  Building people's capacity to address environment and
development issues is perhaps the key achievement of the co-operative
movement.  However, co-operatives throughout the world can show achievement
in other areas including controlling and monitoring air and water
pollution, promoting rational use of agricultural inputs, promoting
alternative energy sources including solar power and biogas, reducing
packaging of co-operative products manufactured by co-operatives, promoting
afforestation and taking other preventive measures with regard to soil
erosion, promoting wild animal conservation in North America and Africa,

Human Rights

Co-operatives have contributed to furthering human rights of all peoples at
the global, regional, national and local levels.  As economic enterprises
with social responsibility, co-operatives are appropriate and effective
vehicles for the fulfilment of human development and the realization of
economic and social rights.

ICA has also implemented a specific programme on Human Rights and
Co-operatives at the ICA Regional Office for Central America and the
Caribbean.  The aim of the programme is to increase human rights' awareness
of co-operators in the region.  Through seminars and workshops held in
rural communities and run in local languages, international Human Rights
instruments - particularly the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the
Declaration of the Right to Development - are presented and explained to
members of co-operatives.  The Regional Office has organised a series of
seminars for co-operative members in indigenous communities, the most
recent of which brought together members of grassroots co-operatives to
discuss the role of co-operatives in indigenous communities and the role of
co-operatives in promoting human rights in such communities.  After
discussions, the participants agreed that co-operatives had been
instrumental in protecting the human rights of indigenous peoples in their
communities and that co-operatives were among the most appropriate means
for improving economic and social conditions in indigenous communities.

Human Settlement

Co-operatives have helped to meet the housing needs of their members
primarily by providing low-cost adequate shelter.

ICA through its Housing Committee has contributed to the advancement of
housing co-operatives in developing countries and in the new and emerging
democracies.  Technical assistance, information and advice is provided to
housing co-operatives worldwide.  Exchanges of personnel are also
encouraged so that housing co-operative movements can learn from each
other.  The achievement list is long, and initiatives have included not
only the construction of houses, but the equitable management of rented
properties, the development of communities - the social and cultural
integration of foreigners including migrants, the construction of schools,
cultural or community centres -, the development of alternative
construction materials for environmentally sustainable housing, assistance
in the elaboration of policy guidelines for the development of human
settlements in the new and emerging democracies, etc.  Examples of these
achievements can be found  primarily in Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

Education and Health

One of the co-operative principles is the provision of education and
training.  Although this focuses primarily on the education relating to
co-operative management and professional training, a large number of
co-operatives have expanded this principles to include basic education.
Co-operatives provide literacy training, offer language courses to member
migrant workers and have established day-care centres and schools for
children where instruction is provided.  ICA regional offices and member
organisations in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America can demonstrate
positive achievements in contributing to the education of their members and
of the community. The consumer co-operative movements in all regions have
been particularly active in providing education on nutrition, environment
and health.  Their action fosters the human development of members of
co-operatives, thus increasing their access to productive employment and
contributing to the improvement of living standards.

In addition to the activities implemented by the regional offices, ICA has
also established a specialized body, the International Committee for
Training and Education of Co-operators (INCOTEC) which provides advice to
the ICA regional offices and assists member organisations in increasing the
effectiveness of their training programmes especially with regard to
teaching materials.  INCOTEC also assists member organisations in
facilitating international co-operation in the education field by
organising study visits, and exchange visits, etc.

Members of co-operatives have also established co-operative schools9.
Operated on co-operative principles, these schools are part of a community:
parents and students turn to them for matters of education, but also for
education is its largest sense-- culture, physical and mental health,
literacy and employment.

The ICA makes an active contribution to improving health care services both
in industrialized countries such as the Japan, Spain, and the United
States, in the developing world, particularly in Brazil and in countries in
transition.  Health care co-operatives provide a range of services to
significant proportions of the population in many countries.  In some
cases, co-operatives are formed by groups of prospective clients who may
pool resources for the purpose of establishing clinics or hospitals and
paying doctors and nurses.   In other cases, groups of professionals in the
health sector, principally doctors, form a co-operative which may serve as
a centralized supplier of goods and services they themselves need, or may
take the form of a jointly owned facility operated more effectively by
capturing economies of scale.

In order to bring together those members which provide health care to
communities, the ICA is considering the establishment of an ICA specialized
body for Health Co-operatives.  This body would regroup co-operatives which
have effectively contributed to the provision of quality health care at
moderate prices for their members and the community in which they function.

Finally, the ICA has provided professional education and training to young
journalists through its Workshop for Young Journalists.  The second
workshop is scheduled for 1995.


The ICA has contributed to the advancement of women throughout its
existence.  At the First ICA Congress in 1895, a woman co-operator
addressed delegates on the importance of including women in the ICA:

I do wish to remind you that if you want to succeed in your efforts then
you must get the co-operation of us women.  There are millions of women in
the world, and without being self-assertive, I venture to remind you that
millions of women can be made a mighty force whether for evil or for good.
It is all very well to go to the women at the beginning of the movement and
ask us to buy the goods you have to sell.  But I want to remind you that
besides purchasing goods, we want a voice in the movement.

Women did receive that voice.  A number of the leading personalities in the
history of the ICA were women who not only furthered the aims of
co-operation, but also tried to improve the status of women in general.

In 1921, the ICA Women's Guild was established to promote the participation
of women in co-operatives by providing education and disseminating
information on their current and potential contribution to co-operative
development.  The Guild's numerous achievements were recognized not only by
the ICA but also by the League of Nations.   It co-operated with other
women' organisations in an effort to get the League of Nations to recommend
a revision of the unsatisfactory provisions regarding the nationality of
married women in the Hague Convention on the Codification of International
Law.  Later in 1931, the Guild "was one of the organisations invited by the
Secretary-General of the League of Nations to express views on the
question" concerning the collaboration of women in the League of Nations.10

The ICA continued to promote the participation of women in co-operatives
and the advancement of women.  As recently as September 1993, the ICA
membership reaffirmed its commitment to increasing and improving the
participation of women in co-operatives by approving the ICA Policy on
Women in Development which calls for increased technical and financial
resources to be targeted to promote in the involvement of women in

ICA development programmes in Africa, Asia, and Latin America have also
identified women and gender programmes as priority areas of work.  Gender
Advisors have been recruited to implement programmes and ensure that the
gender perspective is included in all ICA programmes.

As noted above, women, through their participation in co-operatives, have
been able to improve their economic and social situation within their
communities.  At grassroots levels, women have reported that participation
in co-operatives has increased their self-esteem, assisted in earning the
respect of their spouses, provided a degree of independence, and provided
access to education and training and has helped them to develop their
leadership skills.


The ICA has worked towards the well-being and protection of children by
promoting income generating activities through co-operatives and the
provision of services.

For example,  co-operative day care centres provide high quality, low cost
child care to families throughout the world, particularly in Asia and North

However, not only have families been able to provide better care for their
children through co-operatives, but also children themselves have been able
to group together to form co-operatives giving them access to services to
fulfil the basic needs with regard to attendance at school -food, clothing,
school supplies, etc.  School co-operatives are made up of pupils and
students of primary, intermediate and secondary schools.  The co-operatives
are run by their members with guidance from teachers.  They organise and
administer small enterprises engaging in consumer, saving and loan
activities as well as in work programmes and have a strong educational aim.
For examples numerous examples of school co-operatives providing children
and youth access to low cost school books and supplies are found in Europe,
North and South America, school co-operatives which are geared towards
small-scale agricultural production having a strong training component can
be found in Asia and Africa.  These co-operatives initiatives have
contributed to the well-being of children in their respective areas of

In 1986, the ICA Women's Committee collaborated with the UNICEF world-wide
Immunization Campaign to provide financial contributions to local UNICEF
offices and assist at a national and local level in ensuring the
immunization of children against smallpox, polio etc.

Cultural Development

The promotion of positive multi-cultural relations and maintaining cultural
integrity while fostering respect for diversity are incorporated in the
co-operative principles, this helps ICA individuals to come together
regardless of race, creed or colour to solve problems in a democratic forum
which respects different cultures.

As noted above, many indigenous communities especially in Asia and Latin
America have adopted the co-operative form of economic and social
organisation since it inherently respects differing cultures.

Examples of how co-operatives have brought people of different national and
ethnic backgrounds together to work for a common aim are numerous and are
found in all parts of the world from Europe, where co-operatives have been
working toward the integration of migrants, to India where co-operatives
have brought together individuals of different castes.

Co-operatives themselves also organise social and cultural activities for
their members and the community in which they operate.  Many co-operatives
in Europe in particular put aside a portion of their earnings to finance
cultural activities including concerts, theatre and cinema presentations,
language and cooking classes, all of which promote understanding and
respect for other cultures.

Finally, the ICA has recognized that it works both directly and indirectly
towards the the realisation of the objectives of the United Nations World
Decade for Cultural Development which it acknowledged to UNESCO.

Food Security-Agriculture, Fisheries

Almost one quarter of ICA's individual membership works in the agriculture
and fisheries sectors.  The contribution to food security and sustainable
production practices is considerable and concerns all geographical regions
of the world.

The ICA regional offices have programmes aimed at increasing the technical
and financial capacity of agricultural co-operatives in Asia, Africa and
Latin America.  The programmes focus on education and training aimed at
both increasing production and distribution, and improving the quality and
environmental sustainability of agricultural production.

ICA also has specialized bodies which bring together organisations working
in the agricultural sector: the International Co-operative Agricultural
Organisation, and the International Co-operative Fisheries Organisation,
which regroups co-operative fishery organisations.  Both specialized bodies
have contributed to policy dialogues on major international agricultural
and fishery policies and programmes including FAO meetings and special
conferences, GATT and the European Community Common Policies on agriculture
and fisheries.  More importantly, these bodies have provided technical
advice to co-operatives in both developing countries and new emerging

The work of the ICA International Co-operative Agricultural Organisation in
promoting the full market participation of small farmers has contributed to
the revitalization of agriculture in rural areas particularly as regards
the production of healthy and sufficient food for everyone, ensuring hazard
free products, dissemination of information on environmental protection,
sustainable agricultural production (appropriate use of agricultural
inputs, traditional/indigenous pest control, etc).  The activities of this
body are also coordinated with another important agricultural organisation
bringing together farmers and co-operators, the International Federation of
Agricultural Producers (IFAP).

The ICA Fisheries Committee holds training seminars aimed at making primary
fishery co-operatives economically viable and environmentally sustainable.
Two seminars are held yearly, organised in Africa, Asia, Latin America and
in the countries in transition.

Humanitarian Assistance

The ICA's work in the field of humanitarian assistance has focused on
assistance in emergency situations, support of refugees and resettlement

As early as 1934, ICA established the ICA Appeal Fund for Austrian Relief
to assist Austrian refugees who had fled to Czechoslovakia.  Funds were
provided to the Czech co-operative movement to assist them in their efforts
to cope with the influx of refugees.  In 1937 the ICA Spanish Relief Fund
was established to purchase and distribute food in Spain and to assist in
relocating Spanish refugees who had fled to France and Latin America.  The
fund also provided funds to the French Co-operative movement who had set up
an orphanage for Spanish refugee children.  Similar funds were established
to assist Finland and Czechoslovakia to name just two.

In 1945, the ICA Relief fund was established to assist in the recovery and
reconstruction in Europe of co-operative activities.  The most urgent needs
were transport ones for which the fund provided.  The fund received
contribution from co-operative movements around the world including
Argentina, Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland and
the United States showing the solidarity of the co-operative movement.

In addition assistance was provided for emergency situations including
famine - the earliest, the 1921 Russian Famine Appeal and for natural
disasters - the first being the 1928 Bulgarian Earthquake Relief Fund.

Although the ICA no longer establishes appeal or relief funds which it
administers, it does call on members to provide direct assistance to
movements stricken by natural disasters.  Co-operative movements also
collaborate on an individual basis with UN agencies such as the World Food
Programme in the distribution of food to refugees.


This brief synopsis of ICA activities aims to show that the International
Co-operative Alliance has made a major and multi-sectoral contribution to
assuring the economic and social well-being of almost 45 per cent of the
world's population which today comprises the co-operative movement.
Throughout its history, the ICA has sought to promote equitable values in
every aspect of the development of human society. The past and current
achievements of the co-operative movement are indeed impressive but the
organisation is looking ahead to see how it can further contribute to
improving the quality of life of peoples around the world.


1       Report of the Proceedings of the First International Co-operative
Congress, London, 1895, pg 51.

2       Report of the Proceedings of the Tenth Congress of the ICA, Basel,
1921. pg. 15.

3       H.J. May, "The War-time Tasks of the ICA" in The Review of
International Co-operation, No.11, November 1939, pp 515-516.

4       Report of the Proceedings of the 17th ICA Congress, Prague.

5       In 1949, ICA pledged its full support to the United Nations and in
1950 ICA members were requested to put pressure on their governments to
give full effect to UN decisions.  The ICA, later supported the UN
International Year for Peace (1967) and participated in the UN Special
Sessions on Disarmament (1978, 1982, 1988).

6       It should be stressed that ICA members practised political
toleration but not indifference.  Members reacted to a number of
unacceptable political actions such as the Russian invasion of Hungary
(1956), the coup d'etat in Greece (1967) and the violation of human rights
in Czechoslovakia (1968).  Resolutions condemning these actions were passed
in the respective years of occurence.

7       Agenda 21, Chapter 14, para 14.16.

8       The creation of the Committee for Technical Assistance in 1953
marked the official engagement of the ICA in development activities in the
developing world.

9       The first International Co-operative School was established in 1921
and continued its operations until 1980.  Its aims were to support young
leaders from national co-operative movements, to teach co-operative
principles and democratic management and to promote the peaceful
collaboration between co-operatives.  The International Youth Seminar has
taken over the role of the school.

10      Report of the Proceedings of the Fourteenth  Congress of the ICA,
London, September 1934. pp 288.

11    1952            Italian Relief Fund
        1953            ICA Relief Action (flood relief disaster for
                                  Belgium, Netherlands and the UK)
        1954            Flood Disaster (Austria, Germany)
        1960            Cyclone Disaster (Mauritius)
        1960            Chilean Earthquake and Emergency Fund
        1986            Amero Disaster Appeal
        1987            Greek Earthquake Appeal
        1987            Bangladesh Flood Disaster Appeal
        1988            Jamaica Hurricane Disaster Appeal
        1988            Armenian Earthquake Appeal
        1990            Puerto Rico Hurricane Disaster Appeal
        1991            Bangladesh Flood Disaster Appeal