Looking Forward to Cooperatives Fortnight

Greater economic democracy may be an important answer to economic inequality, and co-operatives are a central part of this. The Equality Trust is therefore delighted to have the following guest blog from Ed Mayo, Secretary General at Co-ops UK.

After a year characterised by conflict, it feels like a good time to co-operate.

Co-operatives Fortnight (17 June to 1 July) is when Britain’s seven thousand co-ops and their millions of members come together to celebrate the values of equality and openness.

Co-ops are businesses that are owned by people who participate in the business, for example:

Arla Foods UK: the UK’s largest agricultural co-op, owned by nearly 3,000 UK farmers, and producer of brand names like Anchor, Lurpak and Cravendale.

Central England Co-op: the UK’s largest independent customer owned retailer, it is a successful business with strong commitments to supporting causes across its local area.

Cartrefi Cymru: a large social care agency in Wales that converted to a co-op last year in order both care users and care workers a voice in services for people in need.

Over the Fortnight, we will be encouraging people to share stories of how working together has made a difference, to inspire people to think differently.

There is a brilliant short video of one co-operative, the Leeds Bread Co-op, for example produced out of the Hive Programme of business support backed by the Co-operative Bank. Three minutes, twenty three seconds of hope and joy, re-imagining how work can be organised.

An example from elsewhere in Europe is the extraordinary story of Mondragón and its network of co-operatives in the Basque country as a social innovation. The founder Father José María Arizmendiarrieta declared that justice can not be practiced where human dignity is ignored. 

These values now operate across the co-operative network of 260 different companies and subsidiaries, with over 75,000 workers in 35 countries and annual revenues of 12 billion euros.

The story of Mondragón, analysed by the Young Foundation, also shows how worker co-operation can result in Swedish levels of equality, without Swedish levels of taxation (the Gini coefficient in the Basque region is as low as Sweden’s, but the tax burden is at the EU average).

Mondragón operates with salary ratios, from top to bottom, of no more than one to nine. The Business Select Committee recently declared, on rocketing CEO pay in British business, well into the one to hundreds, that “we do not have confidence that progress will be made without further pressure being exerted”. Sadly the honourable Select Committee members overlooked the idea that if we had different forms of business ownership, we might get different behaviours.

A similar example of the co-operative effect is around Bologna. Three out of four citizens in Bologna belong to a co-op and city offers a remarkable tapestry of social co-operation that shines in its civic culture, welfare, enterprise, innovation and arts.

Co-operatives generate close to 40% of GDP in Emilia Romagna and notably, it is the region of Europe with the lowest social-economic inequality between the rich and the poor. 

Co-operatives Fortnight culminates on Saturday July 1st 2017, the United Nations International Day of Co-operatives, with a conference on re-imagining the economy.

You can find co-ops close to you, or get ideas and resources online to take part.

By being a member of a co-operative or by spending your money with co-operatives, you are supporting values of equality in economic life.

Ed Mayo

Secretary General, Co-operatives UK