man cleaning white building
Photo by Nuno Silva on Unsplash

Co-op Fortnight, the annual celebration of co-ops, runs this year from 20 June to 3 July and Co-ops UK are asking people involved in co-ops to celebrate why they love co-operatives so much. As President of the Co-op National Members’ Council, I’m not going to miss an opportunity to shout a bit about co-ops am I? So here goes…

Co-operatives are values-led businesses, and all co-ops are based on the same principles and values. All co-ops are owned and controlled by its members who may be customers, workers, suppliers or the wider community. All co-ops are democratic, with every member having an equal say in how it is run and how its profits are used. Every member contributes financially in some way. All co-ops are independent businesses, owned and controlled by its members. Co-ops offer education and training to everyone involved, so they can develop the co-op and promote the benefits of co-operation. All co-ops work with and support other co-ops. A co-op supports the communities it works with.

Co-operatives are the most ethical form of business. Principle 7, that co-ops support the communities they work with, takes may forms in practice but if you just look at the support that the retail co-operatives have given communities over the past few years, it’s undoubtedly the case that the UK would be a worse place were it not for the campaigning zeal of the movement. Retail co-ops have of course been at the forefront of tackling food insecurity over the past 18 months, but even before that have an incredibly strong record of campaigning against modern slavery, supporting local communities through small grants programmes, or their partnerships with national charities tackling loneliness and mental health.

Co-operatives are the most sustainable form of business ever invented. Able to plan for the longer-term and avoid the pressures that come from immediate profits or the threat of takeovers from hedge funds, co-operatives are better placed to whether difficult economic conditions and have always tried to reconcile social and economic aims. There are plenty of very laudable attempts to make business more ethical and more environmentally friendly (and it’s very much the case that co-ops don’t have a monopoly on wisdom or good practice) but it is the case that co-ops were there first – and co-ops are more likely to be there in the long-term also.

Co-ops are a Great British invention which we can all take pride in. Amateur historians debate whether to trace the origins of the modern co-operative movement to the Fenwick weavers of East Ayrshire, the Rochdale Pioneers in the north of England, or the thinking and practice of Welsh-born Robert Owen. I say it doesn’t really matter, every bit of Great Britain can take pride in a form of business which has made life better for millions across the globe.