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. Press release

    Global survey shows rising women’s participation in cooperatives

    9 March 2015

    An ILO-ICA joint survey reflects gains for women in co-operatives while pointing to the need for better recognition by governments

  2. Event

    Side Event at the Committeee on the Status of Women on Cooperatives, Gender Equality and Women Empowerment

    10 March 2015

    ILO and ICA are organizing a side event at the Committee on the Status of Women on Cooperatives, Gender Equality and Women Empowerment, in New York on March 10, 2015.

  3. Blog

    Can cooperatives deliver more jobs and greater social inclusion in a changing world of work?

     In the ILO's Work in Progress Blog, COOP's Simel Esim and Waltteri Katajamaki report on cooperatives as the source of innovation. In which ways do cooperatives participate in the changing world of work?

  4. Newsletter

    COOP NEWS UPDATE 2015 No.1

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

  5. Workshop

    Cooperating Out of Isolation: The Case of Migrant Domestic Workers in Lebanon, Jordan and Kuwait

    14-15 December 2014

    On December 14 and 15, representatives from governments, workers' organisations, informal domestic worker networks, and national and international experts on workers’ self-organisation gathered in Amman, Jordan, to discuss and explore potential organizing services for domestic workers, including cooperatives, in Arab States. The meeting report can be accessed here.

  6. 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 9-10 November, 2015.

  7. 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.

  8. Statement

    ILO Statement to the Second Committee of 69th UN General Assembly on Agriculture Development, Food Security and Nutrition

    28 October 2014

    Around the world cooperatives, as principled and value-driven organizations, have a huge impact on rural life. They achieve this through a diverse range of large and small cooperatives ranging from agriculture and horticulture to energy; forestry to finance; social services and community development to transport, tourism, mining and many more.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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! 

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

  32. 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.

  33. 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

  34. 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, Spanish and Arabic, with a Russian version to follow shortly!

  35. 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.

  36. Interview

    Interview with Greg Vines, DDG Management and Reform About the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) General Assembly in Cape Town.

  37. 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.

  38. 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.

  39. 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.

  40. 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.

  41. 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.

  42. Statement

    Guy Ryder's opening remarks to the UNRISD Conference on Social and Solidarity Economy

    06 May 2013

  43. 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.

  44. 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.

  45. 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.

  46. Fact sheet

    A better future for young people: What cooperatives can offer

    November 2012

    Information brief on cooperatives

External links (Tell your story)

  1. The Benefits of Women-Led Co-ops in Arab States
  2. Co-operative legislation finds a home in more nations
  3. Simel Esim on the power of cooperatives
  4. Myths, death and insurance
  5. In Kenya, working hand in hand with the ILO to create cooperatives and jobs
  6. A Model for Small-Scale Farmers in Zanzibar
  7. Empowering women through their own SACCOS
  8. Providing security through SACCOs in Ethiopia
  9. Turning waste fruit into a profitable business
Co-operative News

  1. Celebrating International Co-operative Day
  2. Financial co-operatives: A safe bet in a crisis
  3. ILO report highlights the resilience of financial co-operatives during crisis
  4. ILO highlights co-ops' important role in Japan’s recovery from natural disasters
  5. Co-ops help to promote gender equality, says Simel Esim
  6. Simel Esim on the importance of getting the youth in co-ops
  7. What world do we want as cooperators? And is the work done?
  8. Dunsany Declaration feeds into the ICA's Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade
  9. Simel Esim speaks of the ILO’s co-operative branch key projects
  10. ILO Director-General explains why co-ops are key to feeding the world
  11. Two UN agencies support co-ops role in alleviating youth unemployment crisis
  12. 1,000 co-operators celebrate Global Worker Co-op Day
  13. Co-operative Youth Forum: Empowerment, Employment and Engagement
See also

  1. Cooperative enterprises achieve sustainable development for all - Special event on the occasion of the International Day of Cooperatives, July 5 2014
  2. UN Inter-Agency Task Force on Social and Solidarity Economy
  3. COPAC

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.