Cooperatives are democratically-owned enterprises that exist in nearly all countries of the world and in all sectors of economic activity. Cooperatives can be owned by individuals, by households, or by businesses (whether owned cooperatively or privately) – cooperatives all are defined as operating under the same set of cooperative principles.
The following Statement of Cooperative Identity was adopted by the International Cooperative Alliance in 1995:
Definition: A cooperative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise.
Values: Cooperatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity.
In the tradition of their founders, cooperative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility, and caring for others.
- Voluntary and open membership
- Democratic member control
- Member economic participation
- Autonomy and independence
- Education, training, and information
- Cooperation among cooperatives
- Concern for community
For a discussion of each of these principles and the thinking behind them, a good introduction is "Cooperative Principles Updated," a 1996 article by Ann Hoyt; it is linked below under Related Content.
The cooperative principles developed over several decades of experimentation beginning in the 18th century, both in Europe and North America. In the U.S., Benjamin Franklin helped establish some of the first cooperatives, then called “mutuals” or “contributorships.” Numerous forms of cooperative enterprise, most of which eventually failed, led to the formulation of more enduring cooperative principles by a group of striking mill workers in Rochdale, England in 1844. For a bit of the story of the Rochdale Pioneers, see "Co-op Principles Then and Now," an article by David Thompson; it is linked below under Related Content.
For a deeper discussion of the meaning of the cooperative principles, see the essay by Sid Pohibushchy, “Cooperative values: Their meaning and practical significance,” available as a free download at the CDS Consulting Co-op website: http://cdsconsulting.centraldesktop.com/cbld.
For excellent contemporary examples of cooperatives in many fields, visit http://www.go.coop.