New Internationalist

Co-operatives - the facts

Issue 368

Co-operatives directly employ about 100 million people worldwide – more than the 86 million employed by corporations. In the mid-1990s some 2.3 billion people in the developing world – 57 per cent of its population – were ‘closely associated’ with co-operatives.3

Individual members of national societies belonging to the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) 2002

Caroline Penn / Panos Pictures
Caroline Penn / Panos Pictures

Americas

182,486,437

Europe

118,473,862

Canada

14,518,682

France

17,485,573

US

156,192,982

Germany

21,640,000

Mexico

629,255

Italy

7,624,430

Puerto Rico

1,685,245

Spain

4,336,502

Costa Rica

259,890

Greece

782,000

Brazil

3,741,667

Sweden

4,779,540

Colombia

4,818,250

Britain

9,038,018

Argentina

866,000

Africa

9,561,443

Asia & Oceania

414,383,079

Egypt

4,275,000

Australia

508,197

Zambia

567,342

China

160,000,000

Côte d’Ivoire

127,379

Japan

42,842,643

Senegal

500,000

S Korea

17,067,994

Kenya

2,700,000

India

182,921,000

Uganda

637,015

Nepal

1,006,369

Russia

16,578,000

Ukraine

6,172,135

Kazakhstan

3,700,000

World total 724,904,821

Who belongs?

The best hard evidence we have comes from the membership of the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA), based in Geneva, which in 2002 counted 725 million people involved in co-operatives worldwide – as consumers, workers or residents.1

However, the figure is probably an under-estimate. For historical and other reasons, not all co-op members in every country belong to the ICA or feature in their statistics. Not included are:

Iran: which has at least 50,000 co-ops, with 25% of the population in membership.2

Aotearoa: The New Zealand Co-operatives Association has 40 member organizations.

David Ransom
David Ransom

Mexico: After the revolution that began in 1910, Mexico’s many co-ops were linked directly to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

Indonesia: Has some 100,000 co-ops with 26 million members.

Egypt: The Government estimates there are more than 10 million co-op members.2

Thousands of co-ops in China, Russia and the former Soviet Union, excluded during the Cold War, now belong to the ICA. Debate continues as to how ‘autonomous’ they are.

What do they do?

Colombia: The health co-op Saludcoop is the country’s second-largest employer and provides services to 25% of the population.3

India: There are some 90,000 agricultural supply and marketing co-ops. The Anand dairy comprises some 57,000 co-operatives with about 6 million members.

Christien Jaspars / Panos Pictures
Christien Jaspars / Panos Pictures

Bolivia: Cooperativa de Ahorro y Crédito ‘Jesús Nazareno’ (CJN) handles 25% of all savings.

Brazil: Collective healthcare groups employ 60,000 doctors (about a third of the national total) with over 8 million patients.

South Korea: Has the largest credit-union movement in any developing country, with assets in excess of $7 billion. The Federation of Fisheries Co-operatives has a 71% market share.

Japan: Supply and marketing co-ops handle over 90% of rice and fisheries production.

Kuwait: The Union of Consumer Co-operative Societies handles 80% of all retail trade.

Cyprus: The co-op movement holds a 30% share of banking services and 35% of the marketing of agricultural produce.

Israel: Although they have been in decline, the kibbutzim co-ops played a major part in the genesis of the country.

US: The 100 largest co-ops employ 750,000 people with sales that surpassed $100 billion in 1996. Co-op housing units provide for 3 million people – Co-op City in the Bronx, New York, has 50,000 residents and the largest mortgage in the world. Consumer-owned electricity groups supply 25 million people, mostly in rural areas, and operate more than half the country’s distribution lines. Co-op wholesalers provide more than $100 million worth of groceries and household products every day.

Europe: Agricultural supply and marketing co-ops have some 14 million members and a 55% share of total farm inputs. The Co-op is the largest agricultural landowner in Britain. The Mondragón Corporación Co-operativa (MCC) is the 7th largest industrial group in Spain, employing more than 66,000 people.4 In Italy there are more than 250,000 members of worker-owned co-ops alone, many of them in cutting-edge ‘flexible manufacturing networks’.5

Canada: Quebec’s Mouvement des caisses Desjardins is one of the largest financial institutions in the province. Some 40% of Canadians are members of at least one co-op.

Caroline Penn / Panos Pictures
Caroline Penn / Panos Pictures

How have things changed?

Between 1975 and 2002 co-op membership in the ICA grew faster than the world’s population – even discounting the incorporation of the former Soviet Union and China. Membership trebled in Africa and the Americas. The one region where it fell was Europe.

Co-op membership trends 1975-20026

1975

2002

World population

4 billion

6 billion

Members of co-ops (millions) Europe

153

118 Americas

61

182 Africa

3

10

Asia & Oceania

110*

414 World

326 725

*excluding China and Former Soviet Union

  1. http://www.ica.coop
  2. International Labour Organization, http://www.ilo.org Provisional Record, 19th Session, Geneva 2002.
  3. International Labour Organization, http://www.ilo.org Report by the Secretary-General, A/49/213 1 July 1994.
  4. http://www.mondragon.mcc.es
  5. Tim Huet, ‘Can Co-ops Go Global?’ http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/1997/1197huet.html
  6. http://www.ica.coop and New Internationalist No 48, February 1977.

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