International Day of Cooperatives

30 Jun 2017 | Archives

A press release from CICOPA, the voice of cooperatives in industry and services

Cooperatives ensure that vulnerable and precarious workers are not left behind

Worker, social and producers’ cooperatives in industry and services are one of the tools that can make it possible to safeguard sustainable employment by fighting against work precarity and isolation 

Tomorrow 1 July, cooperators around the globe celebrate the International Day of Cooperatives and use this opportunity to firmly reiterate why cooperatives ensure that no one is left behind, under the common theme of Inclusion. As the world of work undergoes enormous transformations, including in the quality and organisation of work and access to social protection, as enterprises democratically owned and managed by their workers, producers and, in some cases, also their users, cooperatives in industry and services, are sharing how they represent a response to precarity  and isolation. They are one of the tools that can make it possible to safeguard sustainable employment by applying an equal distribution of work and wealth.

According to the soon to be released CICOPA study, ‘Cooperatives and Employment: Second Global Report’, cooperatives should be recognised for the level of work they generate and the response they provide  to the future of work. They represent 9% of the world’s employed population, most of them being individual producers working as self-employed in the framework of producers’ and freelancers’ cooperatives, which are to be found in increasing numbers in industry and services. These cooperatives represent a way for self-employed workers to overcome isolation and precarity by pooling their resources, sharing benefits as well as risks and providing access to social protection schemes.

Vulnerable groups and new forms of employment

The increasing  shift from employee to self-employed status worldwide, the resurgence in the informal economy, notably amongst domestic and care workers, as well as in the construction sector, together with the increase in IT platforms (the phenomenon known as “uberization”), are all phenomena which are turning the world of work upside down. Cooperatives are showing they can provide  quality, sustainable and secure jobs whilst integrating vulnerable groups such as migrants, amongst others.

Cooperatives reduce the effects of precarious and informal working arrangements, which can be a feature of working life for many migrant workers in the domestic sector: the Si Se Puede! Cooperative in the USA and Nor-Bum in Argentina are living proof of this. Si Se Puede! was founded in Brooklyn in 2006, with a mission to bring together immigrant women to create a women-run, women-owned, eco-friendly housecleaning business. It is designed to create living wage jobs that can be carried out in a safe and healthy environment, as well as to provide social support and educational opportunities for members. “Nor-Bum” is a worker cooperative created by seven construction workers, most of whom are Bolivian migrants in the city of La Plata.

In Italy, at least 35,000 people considered to be in a vulnerable situation are employed through social cooperatives. The social cooperative Camelot in Bologna and Ferrara, Italy, has worked on programs for the integration of asylum seekers and refugees and today employs  200 people –  20% of whom are migrants. Camelot has also encouraged the creation of 10 cooperatives by refugees.

Cooperatives in industry and services are providing a response to the challenges of today’s labour market through innovative forms, such as freelancers’ cooperatives and platform cooperatives. A good example of this is to be found in the Belgian cooperative of freelancer artists, SMART.Be, a tool for self-employed workers to share better labour conditions and to provide access to social protection. “Uber workers are proletarians who do what the platform asks them to do. They are not free to choose the client, the contract, etc. and at the same time the platform is managed to make them think they are autonomous workers so that they do not pay the totality of the labour costs. In this way, subordinate workers are transformed into freelance workers. In SMART.Be, we do exactly the opposite, workers keep a high level of autonomy and they acquire the status of salaried workers”, said Sandrino Graceffa, CEO of SMART.Be.

The International Labour Organization adopted in 2015 the Recommendation n° 204 concerning the Transition from the Informal to the Formal Economy, a new international labour standard that is expected to help hundreds of millions of workers and economic units move out of informality and into the formal economy. Cooperatives are mentioned in this Recommandation as part itself of the transition, both in terms of enterprises & in terms of employment. Cooperatives are also mentioned in the legal and policy frameworks sections, by stressing that an integrated policy framework for the transition to the formal economy should include the promotion of entrepreneurship and of different types of business models, including cooperatives and other social and solidarity economy units. More information here

On the International Day of Cooperatives 

The theme of INCLUSION has been selected by the Committee for the Promotion and Advancement of Cooperatives (COPAC) and it  not only captures the people-focused nature of cooperative enterprises, but also echoes the cooperative principles of voluntary and open membership, democratic member control and member economic participation. Cooperatives provide a space where all people, regardless of race, gender, culture, social background or economic circumstance, can meet their needs and build better communities.

The  International Day will be celebrated at the United Nations  in mid-July during the High-level Political Forum for Sustainable Development, during which governments and UN officials will convene to review implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Read the International Cooperative Alliance message here

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