Euro Coop

FAQ

1. What are co-operatives?

Co-operatives are open, democratic organisations owned and controlled by their members, who actively participate in their decision-making processes. They are formed by people who share a common set of values and principles and who get together in order to achieve a common objective, such as joint purchase and supply of consumer goods, joint agricultural or industrial production, education, health care, etc.

2. What are consumer co-operatives?

A consumer co-operative is an autonomous association of consumers united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise. Consumer co-operatives - like all other forms of co-operatives (banking, farming, insurance, and so on) - thus adhere to the Co-operative Principles set-down by the International Co-operative Alliance in Geneva and which have the imprimatur of the United Nations. Members' needs are satisfied through distribution networks ranging from small corner shops to large outlets, elaboration of food quality policies, publication of member-magazines, information and education campaigns, etc. Consumer co-operatives therefore play an important role in the local social and economic fabric of the area, in which they operate.

3. What are their distinctive values?

Consumer co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, equality, equity and solidarity, commitment to the sustainable development of their communities and beyond. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others. In putting these values into practice, consumer co-operatives are guided by the following internationally-agreed co-operative principles:

  1. Voluntary and Open Membership
  2. Democratic Member Control
  3. Member Economic Participation
  4. Autonomy and Independence
  5. Education, Training and Information
  6. Co-operation among co-operatives
  7. Concern for Community.

4. What are the rights and duties of members of consumer co-operatives?

In primary consumer co-operatives, members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote) and co-operatives at other levels are also organised in a democratic manner, differing from the one-vote-per-share system used by most businesses. Voting rights are tied to membership, independent of the level of investment. This ensures that one member cannot exercise control over the group.

Member participation is an essential part of the democratic management of consumer co-operatives. Members are not only consumers, but also shareholders and actively participate in business operations and other activities. The General assembly of member representatives is usually the highest decision-making body. Elected members work in partnership with management to ensure co-operative goals are met. Members may also stand for election in local committees.

Men and women serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In this way, the common need rather than the individual need is served. Members are expected to promote co-operative ideas and values by exercising their voting rights, in addition to keeping themselves informed about the latest developments within the co-operative and respecting its rules.

5. When, why and how were consumer co-operatives created?

The consumer co-operative movement has its roots in the Lancashire textile town of Rochdale, England, where, in 1844, harsh living conditions and inadequate consumer protection - the adulteration of food by private traders was widespread - inspired 28 workers to fund the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society. This retail co-operative Society adopted a new approach to the supply of food and other goods and provided social and educational facilities for ordinary working people.

These 28 Rochdale pioneers opened a store in Toad Lane, where they sold wholesome food at reasonable prices. A share of the profit, or surplus as they preferred to call it, was returned to members in proportion to their purchases - the famous co-operative dividend or "divi". The Pioneers and other early Co-operators owed much of their inspiration to the co-operative writings of Dr William King, a Brighton physician and philanthropist, and Robert Owen, a Welsh manufacturer and social reformer. From the decisions and practices of the Pioneers, based on the Owenite theories of Co-operation, the Rochdale Principles of Co-operation were formulated. These included: voluntary and open membership; democratic control - one member, one vote; payment of limited interest on capital; surplus allocated in proportion to members' purchases - the dividend; and educational facilities for members and workers.

It is not claimed that the Rochdale Pioneers Society was the very first co-operative nor was its shop the very first co-operative store. There were earlier societies, but even those that survived came to adopt the Rochdale pattern of Co-operation as the best means of operating a consumer co-operative society and fulfilling its aims. Rochdale became a model for the formation of similar co-operative societies throughout the United Kingdom and around the World.

Today, the International Co-operative Alliance unites and represents more than 1 billion Co-operators in more than 95 countries around the globe.

6. What is the difference between consumer co-operatives and other forms of enterprise?

The primary objective of a consumer co-operative is to satisfy consumer-members' needs and expectations. Rather than being the ultimate aim, profit is the means to develop a stable business to reach this objective. Consumer co-operatives take a global approach to production and distribution, taking into account members' concerns about health, environment and other issues. Corporate Social Responsibility is a fundamental feature of their approach to business. Years of successful activities by co-ops have granted the use of the terms "Co-operative Social Responsibility".

7. Do you need to become a member in order to use the services of a consumer co-operative?

No, membership is not a pre-requisite to use the services of a consumer co-operative. On the other hand, consumer co-operatives offer advantages to their members such as discounts, promotions, end-of-year refunds, and, of course, participation in the managing of the co-operative.

8. Are consumer co-operatives still relevant in the 21st century?

In a society in which undertakings are profit-driven and more interested in maximising investor returns than the common good, consumer co-operatives offer an alternative to consumers that are concerned about issues such as the environment, health, sustainability, development, to name a few. Consumer co-operatives empower consumers by enacting the "one member-one vote" principle, and while focusing on solidarity, they are committed to providing consumers with a responsible choice.

In their attempt to always maximise benefits for their consumer-members and local communities, consumer co-operatives often lead the way on major consumer initiatives such as labelling information, consumer awareness, support for Fair Trade products, organic produce, support for local producers, and community-building.

Consumer co-operatives constantly seek to satisfy consumer demand for better products and services at reasonable prices, while continuing to emphasize activities that meet members' social and cultural needs, and a desire for a sustainable society.

9. What is Euro Coop?

Officially, Euro Coop is the European Community of Consumer Co-operatives, which brings together the national organisations of consumer co-operatives in 19 European countries. Established in 1957, we are one of the first non-governmental organisations recognised on EU level. The headquarters have always been in Brussels, which means that the Association's growth throughout the decades has been parralel to that of the EU Institutions and the EU itself! A peculiar fact is that Euro Coop, registered on 11 July 1957, precedes the European Commission, which commenced operations under this name and format in January 1958.

Today, Euro Coop represents over 5,000 local and regional consumer co-operative entities, that employ 500,000 persons. Euro Coop's 19 national members are Europe's strongest retail force by store network - 36,000 points of sale, and by annual turnover - 79 billion EUR. Daily, our members serve  32 million consumers across the continent.

10. What are Euro Coop's objectives?

  1. Promoting the economic and social objectives of European consumer co-operatives to the EU institutions;
  2. Representing consumers' interests and rights at EU-level;
  3. Informing our member organisations of EU policies and developments relevant to their activities;
  4. Providing a forum for the exchange of information, knowledge, and expertise among our national member organisations;
  5. Coordinating our member's the common business interests and activities;
  6. Representing the co-operative business model and co-operative model of enterprise on EU-level.

11. How does Euro Coop represent consumer co-operatives to the EU institutions?

Euro Coop works to ensure that consumer co-operatives' and their consumer members' interests in the fields of environmental protection, food safety, consumer protection, and retail policies are acknowledged by the EU actors. Internally, the issues of interest and importance to members are discussed within three Working Groups, which establish the Association's policy direction. The three policy areas are: food policy, sustainability policy, and co-operative distinctiveness. More information on the policy areas can be found here.

Therefore, Euro Coop participates in many advisory fora within the EU institutions (European Commission, European Parliament, European Economic and Social Committee) charged with developing Union policies, in addition to participating in consultations organised by the European Commission with a view to launching new legislative initiatives. Euro Coop also regularly liases with EU officials and representatives in order to inform them of the views of its member organisations. 

Our Association is a member of other fora that galvanise like-minded organisations, including the High-Level Forum for a Better Functioning Food Supply Chain, the co-op exclusive EU Co-ordinating Committee (EUCC), the European Consumer Consultative Group (ECCG), the Trans-Atlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD), and the Supply Chain Initiative (SCI), to name a few.

Euro Coop also works to create a political impetus on relevant subjects by raising awareness among politicians and decision-makers at EU-level by organising conferences and publishing position papers. This process of awareness-raising also involves active collaboration and coalition-building with like-minded organisations on common issues. A good example is the June 2016 high-level conference on food authenticity and integrity, co-organised by Euro Coop, the European Commission, and other stakeholders in order to discuss how private operators and public authorities can co-operate to promote and guarantee food products' safety.

12. To which extent can Euro Coop be considered representative of European consumers?

Firstly, having been established in 1957, Euro Coop is one of the oldest organisations on EU level for which consumer concerns are at the core of its mission. Our national member organisations were among the first consumer organisations in their respective countries. Together, Euro Coop and its members boast a long tradition and decades of experience in dealing with consumers and their concerns.

Secondly, our member organisations (and all co-operatives by default) are unique in that they are democratically structured and managed by their members through the co-operative principle of "one member-one vote", which guarantees every member a role in setting the objectives of their consumer co-operative and, in turn, in its management via  local, regional, and national assemblies.

Thirdly, the unique "grassroots" structure of co-operatives means that consumer co-operatives are directly in contact and fully aware of the views of their consumer-members at the local level, be it a village consumer co-operative on the Portuguese Algarve, in the frozen Finnish tundra north of the Artic Circle, in a mountain village in Cyprus, or on the remote Highlands and Islands of Scotland. This guarantees a mechanism of daily contact with millions of consumers across Europe. Thanks to this rich contact, they are aware of their consumers' concerns and respond to them with pragmatic, realistic solutions. In order words, consumer co-operatives not only identify consumer concerns, but unlike other consumer organisations, they also actively intervene to resolve these consumer concerns. In this way, consumer co-operatives truly empower consumers, who are usually their members, thus - owners!

Moreover, today's consumer co-operatives offer a range of dynamic services that responds to consumers' needs - such as elaborating food quality policies in their own laboratories, carrying out extensive awareness-raising, information, and education campaigns on specific issues like healthy lifestyles, publishing consumer magazines and information brochures, organising and funding training courses, and others. For the purpose, most national co-operative organisations have developed strong co-operative media (newspapers, magazines, journals, website) to reinforce and extend the consumer co-operatives mission online and offline.

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