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Cooperative Conversations

24 SEPTEMBER 2020

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of ICA’s Statement on the Cooperative Identity, two online events were organized by the ICA and the Co-operative College UK on 21-22 September 2020.

Delivered under the banner of Cooperative Conversations, this two-part series featured live discussion with cooperators from different parts of the world. Agricultural Credit Cooperatives of Turkey attended the webinars which discussed the Statement on the Cooperative Identity, including its definition, its cooperative and ethical values, and its seven cooperative principles.

The first conversation, titled Looking Back for a Stronger, Brighter Future, explored how the seven cooperative principles came to be and the significance of the global context at the time. It also elaborated the impact this context had on the cooperative movement then, and crucially how the cooperative movement today could shape the future. This conversation, held on Monday, 21 September, celebrated the 25th anniversary of ICA’s Statement on the Cooperative Identity. In 1995, attendees of the 31st ICA World Cooperative Congress in Manchester witnessed an event that, for the first time, explicitly defined cooperatives, identified our shared values and added the 7th cooperative principle, which is “Concern for Community”. This was the culmination of hard work and collaboration between members from all over the world and since then, the cooperative identity (definition, values and principles) has become a part of who we are and how we conduct our business.

The speakers stated that the cooperative identity is the basis and foundation to cooperatives’ contribution to solving many global crises and challenges we face today and in the future. The cooperative values and principles were discussed in the webinar to protect and promote the cooperative model that meet the changing socioeconomic needs and aspirations of the members and the communities cooperatives serve. It was concluded that the discussions on the cooperative identity should embrace all stakeholders and cover emerging topics such as digitalization, youth participation, and sustainable environment. Marking the anniversary of ICA’s Statement on the the Cooperative Identity, the webinar stressed the fact that the principles should be adapted to the realities of today’s world and it should be internalized and incorporated into day to day business.

The second conversation, titled The Impact of the Cooperative Identity on Regulation, examined the impact of the cooperative identity statement on cooperative regulation at the national and international level. This conversation, which was held on Tuesday, 22 September, shed light on the evolution of cooperative principles and cooperative law. The speakers explained the historical background of cooperatives principles, including the Rochdale Principles, the ICA Statement on the Cooperative Identity, and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Recommendation No. 193 on the Promotion of Cooperatives.

The first cooperative standards defined by the Rochdale pioneers in 1844 evolved into being called “principles”. The original Rochdale Principles remained untouched from 1895 till the 1930s. The ICA made two formal statements on the cooperative principles in the context of updating them or even revising them. These were via the World Cooperative Congresses in 1937 in Paris (15th) and in 1966 in Vienna (23rd). The 31st Congress in 1995 in Manchester finally adopted the Statement on the Cooperative Identity that defined cooperatives, identified shared values, and expanded the cooperative principles, to guide cooperatives into the 21st century.

The ICA Statement on the Cooperative Identity resulted—for the first time— in the elaboration of a complete international standard for cooperatives. Seven years after its adoption, the components of the Statement on the Cooperative Identity were fully enshrined in the ILO Promotion of Cooperatives Recommendation, 2002 (n° 193). This was the first time that the international cooperative standards were enshrined in detail, in an official text of an organisation in the UN system. This inclusion was voted almost unanimously and without opposition with most countries of the world present, including governments, national trade unions and employers’ organisations, thus making it a real consensus in the international community.

The webinar ended saying that the innovative and internationally relevant text of the ICA Statement on the Cooperative Identity has found strong echoes from the time it was approved in 1995 until today. It has been the object of constant use, incorporation in UN texts, transposition in national legislation, elaboration of complementary standards for specific cooperative types, etc. Many national or state-level cooperative laws have been created and amended based on this text (e.g. several States of the USA, China, Brazil, India, Italy, Spain, France, South Africa, Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan etc.), bearing witness to its relevance, but also, more importantly, to the relevance of cooperatives in those various national contexts.

These two events encouraged dialogue and engaging conversations between speakers and served as a pre-event in the run-up to the 33rd World Cooperative Congress to be held next year on the theme of the cooperative identity.