Cooperatives (COOP)
ILO is a specialized agency of the United Nations

Cooperatives (COOP)

The ILO views cooperatives as important in improving the living and working conditions of women and men globally as well as making essential infrastructure and services available even in areas neglected by the state and investor-driven enterprises. Cooperatives have a proven record of creating and sustaining employment –  they are estimated to provide at least 250 million jobs today; they advance the ILO’s Global Employment Agenda and contribute to promoting decent work.

International standard on cooperatives guides work

ILO activities are guided by the international standard on cooperatives, the ILO Recommendation on the Promotion of Cooperatives, 2002 (R.193). ILO's Cooperatives Unit (COOP) serves ILO constituents and cooperative organizations in four priority areas:
  • Raising public awareness on cooperatives through evidence based advocacy and sensitization to cooperative values and principles;
  • Ensuring the competitiveness of cooperatives by developing tailored tools to cooperative stakeholders including management training, audit manuals and assistance programmes.
  • Promoting the Inclusion of teaching of cooperative principles and practices at all levels of the national education and training systems; and,
  • Providing advice on cooperative policy and cooperative law, including participatory policy and law making and the impact on cooperatives of taxation policies, labour law, accounting standards, and competition law among others.

Partnerships for cooperative promotion

The ILO works in partnership with the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA), the representative world body of cooperatives and is a member of the Committee for the Promotion and Advancement of Cooperatives (COPAC), an interagency committee which promotes sustainable cooperative development. It also collaborates with cooperative development agencies and training institutions.

A cooperative is defined as an "autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise."

ILO Recommendation 193


  1. Report

    Cooperatives and the Sustainable Development Goals: A contribution to the post-2015 development debate

    This paper highlights the contribution of cooperatives to sustainable development with a view to stimulating discussion on the role of cooperatives in the design and implementation of SDGs.

  1. Blog

    Cooperatives and formalization
    12 November 2014

    "I am struck by the energy, vision and accomplishments of the membership-based organizations of workers in the informal economy, largely led by women", writes Simel Esim, the manager of ILO COOP, on the occasion of WIEGO's  General Assembly, in her blog entry.

  2. Report

    Tackling informality in e-waste management: The potential of cooperative enterprises
    21 October 2014

    This new working paper by ILO’s Sectoral Activities Department and the Cooperatives Unit explores the role and potential of cooperatives and other social and solidarity economy organizations in coping with the challenges of e-waste, and in contributing to more and better jobs in e-waste recycling.

  3. International Summit of Cooperatives

    ILO: "Cooperatives can and must play a significant role as value driven enterprises expanding into new and innovative areas"
    07 October 2014

    Keynote address by Sandra Polaski, ILO Deputy Director General for Policy, at the International Summit of Cooperatives Session on Cooperatives and Employment. Quebec, Canada.

  4. Cooperatives and post-2015 conference in Brussels

    Cooperatives are major job creators
    28 September 2014

    In her presentation, Simel Esim, Head of the ILO’s Cooperatives Unit, underlined the key role cooperatives could play in the post-2015 development agenda.

  5. Cooperatives and Trade Unions

    Job preservation through the creation of worker cooperatives: Lessons for trade unions

    A new ILO publication presents a series of lessons learned by trade unions and cooperatives in their efforts to prevent the closing of enterprises through buyouts. It provides examples of success stories and documents the enabling conditions that led to success.

  6. Newsletter

    ILO COOP News Update
    06 October 2014

    This issue of the COOP News includes articles on various events, projects, trainings and meetings related to the work of the ILO's COOP Unit between April and August, 2014.

  7. Information Guide

    Promoting cooperatives:An information guide to ILO Recommendation No. 193
    06 October 2014

    The ILO’s Recommendation 193 on the Promotion of Cooperatives was adopted in 2002 and provides an internationally agreed template for national policy. This second edition has been updated and revised and will help cooperatives, governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations to help to make the cooperative model to become the option for achieving sustainable development.

  8. Research Conference

    Cooperatives and the World of Work Research Conference

    Call for papers for the ICA-ILO International Research Conference Cooperatives and the World of Work, to be held in Antalya, Turkey, on 10-11 November, 2015.

  9. Cooperatives and the World of Work

    Cooperating out of isolation: Domestic workers' cooperatives

    ILO COOP has started a new series on cooperatives and the world of work. This brief on domestic workers' cooperatives is the second in the series.

  10. Cooperatives and the World of Work

    Leveraging the cooperative advantage for women’s empowerment and gender equality

    ILO COOP has started a new series on cooperatives and the world of work. This brief on cooperative advantage for women’s empowerment and gender equality is the first in the series.

  11. My.Coop ToT

    My.COOP - Managing your agricultural cooperative Training of Trainers
    30 July 2014

    Registration for My.COOP Training of Trainers distance learning programme in English, French and Spanish is now open! 

  12. Comment

    The cooperative key to sustainable development
    02 September 2014

    On the occasion of the International Symposium “Cooperatives and the Sustainable Development Goals: Focus on Africa” in Berlin, ILO Cooperative Unit (COOP) Chief Simel Esim explains why cooperatives are vital to reaching the goals of the United Nations’ post-2015 development agenda.

  13. News

    My. COOP se institucionaliza en el Perú

    Gobierno del Perú muestra su compromiso con la institucionalización de la Metodología de My.COOP, iniciada por la OIT, Agriterra, KIT y otros socios en el 2009.

  14. Policy brief

    Findings of the Assessment of Agricultural Cooperatives in West Bank: Challenges and Opportunities

    This policy brief presents concrete strategies to improve the challenging situation that workers face in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) by exploring the full potential of agricultural cooperative enterprises in the West Bank.

  15. Symposium

    FES/ILO/DGRV International Symposium on Cooperatives and the Sustainable Development Goals: Focus on Africa
    02 September 2014

    This event aims at informing the development community in Germany of the latest trends with regard to the role cooperative enterprises can play as builders of economic, social and environmental sustainability.

  16. Interview

    International Summit of Cooperatives: Interview with Sandra Polaski

    The Summit speaks with Sandra Polaski, Deputy Director-General at the ILO, about the ILO’s Global Employment Agenda, the reasons behind the success of cooperatives in the area of job creation and the contribution of cooperatives to the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals.

  17. Interview

    Cooperatives can help fight child labour

    Listen to the RadioLabour report on cooperatives fighting child labour, featuring Simon Steyne, the head of the Social Dialogue and Partnerships unit of the ILO's International Programme for the Elimination of Child Labour - IPEC.

  18. Brief

    Cooperatives and the Sustainable Development Goals: A Contribution to the Post-2015 Development Debate
    08 April 2014

    This brief summarizes the main findings of a forthcoming report of the same title, by Frederick O. Wanyama of Maseno University in Kenya, prepared as part of ILO’s contribution to the initiative on the contribution of cooperatives to sustainable development.

  19. Analysis

    Cooperatives' considerable clout in the fight against child labour
    14 July 2014

    The coop economy, worth around US$2.5 trillion, plays its part in helping to eliminate child labour – a problem that, although in decline, still affects 168 million children worldwide.

  20. Survey analysis

    Cooperative movement engagement in sustainable development and the post-2015 process: Survey findings
    27 June 2014

    In order to bring cooperative voices into the discussion around the post-2015 development agenda, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) have launched an initiative on the contribution of cooperatives to sustainable development. This brief reports on the results of an online survey that investigated the current and potential contributions of cooperatives to sustainable development.

  21. International Labour Conference

    Cooperatives provide their members with the adequate tools enabling the transition towards the formal economy
    03 June 2014

    Secretary General of CICOPA, Bruno Roelants, is representing the International Co-operative Alliance at the 103rd Session of the International Labour Conference in Geneva. Click to read Mr. Roelants' address to the ILC Committee on facilitating transitions from the informal to the formal economy.

  22. Analysis

    Rebuilding links: Trade unions and cooperatives get together again
    22 May 2014

    All over the world, trade unions and cooperatives are rediscovering each other and joining forces to save companies and jobs.

  23. Newsletter

    ILO and Cooperatives - ILO COOP News No. 1, 2014

    This issue of the COOP News includes articles on various events, projects, trainings and meetings related to the work of the ILO's COOP Unit between January and March, 2014.

  24. International Journal of Labour Research

    Trade unions and worker cooperatives: Where are we at?
    01 April 2014

    In May 2013, ACTRAV and the ILO Cooperatives Unit held a seminar on the topic of relations between trade unions and worker cooperatives. The goal was to re-examine the relationship between the two movements by taking stock of recent initiatives around the world. To be sure, the relationship between trade unions and cooperatives is as long as the history of trade unions. In fact, it is fair to say that the first associations of workers that emerged in Europe looked more like cooperatives than trade unions.

  25. Publication

    Providing clean energy and energy access through cooperatives
    20 December 2013

    This publication is a collection of case studies on cooperatives in energy production, distribution and consumption as a contribution to the on-going search for ways in which the goal of sustainable Energy for All can be turned into a reality.

  26. Speech

    The ILO and the cooperative spirit: An historical partnership with a vision for the future
    10 December 2013

    Opening remarks by  Maurizio Bussi, the Director of the ILO's Decent Work Technical Support Team for East and Southeast Asia and the Pacific at the First Asia-Pacific Co-operative Registrars' Conference, 10-12 December 2013, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

  27. Book

    Guidelines for Cooperative Legislation (Third revised edition)
    December 2012

    Provides guidance to policy and lawmakers as well as other stakeholders to update existing and draft new cooperative legislation. Now also available in French and Spanish, with Arabic and Russian versions to follow shortly!

  28. Report

    Resilience in a downturn: The power of financial cooperatives
    20 March 2013

    This report reviews the performance of financial cooperatives, looking in particular at the aftermath of the 2007-2008 crisis and the continuing long austerity period. It explains why financial cooperatives have proven to be more resilient pointing to the specificities of the cooperative model of enterprise. Now available in English, French, Spanish and Korean.

  29. Policy brief

    Cooperating out of HIV and AIDS
    13 November 2013

    Given the values and principles cooperative enterprises embody and as a resilient business model which has been shown to operate successfully in all sectors, they can play a vital role in overcoming HIV and AIDS.

  30. Issue brief

    Cooperatives offer migrant workers options for better lives
    19 September 2013

    Cooperative enterprises have improved the lives of women and men migrant workers and their families for decades. Migrants find income and jobs, access affordable goods and services and find empowerment through cooperative enterprises, participating in the cooperative movement. Moreover, cooperative enterprises are facilitating economic, social and cultural integration or re-integration of migrant workers in both destination and home countries.

  31. News

    Resilience and social inclusion through cooperatives
    08 July 2013

    On 8 July, experts gathered for a panel discussion at the UN in New York to examine ways in which cooperatives could serve as engines of economic recovery and growth while providing greater opportunities for social inclusion.

  32. Feature

    Helping women to help themselves escape poverty in Myanmar
    10 June 2013

    A non-profit organization set up in response to the devastation caused by cyclone Nargis employs women to run small businesses that benefit poor communities.

  33. Article

    Cooperatives today: challenges and opportunities
    14 May 2013

    A recent seminar organized by the ILO’s Bureau for Workers’ Activities and the ILO’s Cooperative Branch brought together researchers and practitioners from around the world to talk about some of the issues and experiences that cooperatives are facing today.

  34. Press release

    The true potential of the social and solidarity economy
    06 May 2013

    Cooperatives and social enterprises can help expand decent work and job opportunities, says ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder.

  35. Analysis

    Financial cooperatives: A safe bet in a crisis
    12 April 2013

    A new ILO book says that financial cooperatives fared better than the big investor-owned banks during the economic crisis.

  36. Fact sheet

    A cooperative future for people with disabilities
    December 2012

    This issue brief produced during the International Year of Cooperatives 2012 highlights how and why the cooperative form of enterprise can cater to the economic and social needs of persons with disabilities.

  37. Fact sheet

    A better future for young people: What cooperatives can offer
    November 2012

    Information brief on cooperatives

Key resources

  1. Guidelines for cooperative legislation, third revised edition
    11 December 2012

    Provides guidance on how to draft cooperative law.

  2. Instructional Material

    Handbook on Cooperatives for use by Workers' Organizations
    01 January 2007

    This handbook lists the essential things to know about cooperatives for all those who are interested as members, future members, politicians or staff of national or international institutions in charge of the promotion and development of cooperatives. In simple, understandable language, the handbook deals in turn with the characteristic features of cooperatives, cooperative enterprise as a whole, the promotion of cooperatives and the close ties that exist between the ILO and cooperatives.

  3. Let’s organize! : a SYNDICOOP handbook for trade unions and cooperatives about organizing workers in the informal economy
    01 January 2006

    This SYNDICOOP Handbook is designed to help replicate the approach by serving as a resource for trade union and cooperative organizers and trainers. It was finalized by members of the International Steering Committee of the SYNDICOOP Programme, mainly comprising representatives from the International Confederation of Trade Unions (ICFTU now ITUC), the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) and ILO together with National Steering Committee members from all four programme countries as well as project staff.

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