1.What are co-operatives?
2. What are consumer co-operatives?
3. What are their distinctive values?
4. What are the rights and duties of members of consumer co-operatives?
5. When, why and how were consumer co-operatives created?
6. What is the difference between consumer co-operatives and other forms of enterprise?
7.Do you need to become a member in order to use the services of a consumer co-operative?
8. Are consumer co-operatives still relevant in the 21st century?
9. What is EURO COOP?
10. What are the EURO COOP objectives?
11. How does EURO COOP represent consumer co-operatives to the EU institutions?
12. To which extent can EURO COOP be considered representative of European consumers?
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.
A consumer co-operative is an autonomous association of consumers united voluntary 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. Member 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.
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:
- Voluntary and Open Membership
- Democratic Member Control
- Member Economic Participation
- Autonomy and Independence
- Education, Training and Information
- Co-operation among co-operatives
- Concern for Community.
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 respect its rules.
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 adopt a new approach to the supply of food and other goods and the provision of social and educational facilities for ordinary working people by setting up a retail co-operative society, the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society.
These 28 Rochdale pioneers opened a shop 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, there are more than 700 million Co-operators in more than 100 countries supported by the Geneva-based International Co-operative Alliance.
The primary objective of a consumer co-operative is to satisfy 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.
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.
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 such issues as the environment, health, development, etc. Consumer co-operatives empower consumers by enacting the "One member, One vote" principle, while focusing on solidarity. Consumer co-operatives are committed to providing consumers with a responsible choice, and therefore often lead the way on major consumer initiatives such as labelling information, support for Fair Trade products, organic produce, etc.
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.
EURO COOP is the European Community of consumer co-operatives. Its members are the national organisations of consumer co-operatives in 18 European countries. Created in 1957, EURO COOP today represents over 3 300 local and regional consumer co-operatives, whose members amount to more than 22 million consumers across Europe. Its General Secretariat is based in Brussels, home of the European Union institutions.
- EURO COOP promotes the economic and social objectives of European consumer co-operatives to the EU institutions ;
- EURO COOP represents and defends consumer interests at EU-level ;
- EURO COOP informs its member organisations about EU policies and developments relevant to their activities ;
- EURO COOP provides a forum for the exchange of information and co-ordination of the common interests of member organisations
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 co-operatives enterprises policies are acknowledged by the EU actors. This includes participating in many advisory forums within the EU institutions (European Commission, European Parliament, European Economic and Social Committee, etc.) charged with developing EU 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.
EURO COOP is a member of other forums that regroup like-minded organisations, including the Co-ordinating Committee of European Co-operative Associations, Trans-Atlantic Consumer Dialogue, European Standing Conference of Co-operatives, Mutual Societies, Associations and Foundations, etc.
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. A good example is the Spring 2004 European conference co-organised by EURO COOP in collaboration with the European Commission, European Parliament and other stakeholders in order to raise awareness of the need for concerted action to support Fair Trade.
This process of awareness raising also involves active collaboration and coalition-building with other like-minded organisations in order to give added-weight to EURO COOP positions, with a good example being the Spring 2003 European Conference that EURO COOP co-organised in the European Parliament with other like-minded organisations aimed at raising awareness of the need to ensure co-existence of GM crops alongside conventional and organic crops.
Firstly, EURO COOP is one of the oldest European Consumer Organisations. Its national member organisations were among the first consumer organisations in their respective countries. EURO COOP and its member organisations therefore enjoy a long tradition and many years' experience of dealing with consumers and their concerns.
Secondly, EURO COOP member organisations are unique in that they are democratically structured and managed. In other words, thanks to the co-operative principle of "one member, one vote", every member has a role in setting the objectives of his/her consumer co-operative and in turn in its management via their local, regional and national assemblies.
This leads to the third reason - the unique "grassroots" structure of consumer co-operatives. This means that consumer co-operatives are directly in contact - and therefore 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 grassroots structure - which is unique to consumer co-operatives - means that they are in daily contact with millions of consumers across Europe every day. 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 actively intervene to resolve these consumer concerns. In this way, consumer co-operatives truly empower consumers.
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, publishing consumer magazines, information brochures, organising consumer information and education campaign, training courses, etc.