The ILO's Cooperative Service was created in 1920 as an international centre for cooperative research, documentation, information and advice as well as liaising with cooperative organisations. The ILO remains the only specialized agency of the United Nations with an explicit mandate covering all cooperatives to this day.
Cooperatives are mentioned in the ILO Constitution in 1946, Article 12, Paragraph 3 indicating that “The International Labour Organisation may make suitable arrangements for such consultation as it may think desirable with recognized non-governmental international organisations, including international organisations of employers, workers, agriculturists and cooperators”.
The ILO's 50th Anniversary in 1969 marks the golden age of ILO’s technical cooperation in the field of cooperative promotion. Of all the funds allocated by the UNDP to the ILO,15% is spent on assistance to cooperative projects. More than 120 ILO cooperative experts work in nearly 70 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.
ILO’s Promotion of Cooperatives Recommendation, 2002 (No. 193) was approved at the 90th Session of the International Labour Conference replacing the Cooperatives (Developing Countries) Recommendation (No 127), 1966. Since its adoption, Recommendation (No. 193) has provided a practical, contemporary framework for the development and revision of cooperative policies and legislation in more than 100 countries worldwide.
In 2010, the ILO and its International Training Center launched a Social and Solidarity Economy Academy in Turin. Since then the academy has taken place in Canada (2011), Morocco (2013), Brazil (2014), South Africa (2015) and Mexico (2015). ILO has also been responding to requests from national governments for advisory services for development and reform of policy and legislation on social and solidarity economy.
Launched in 2012, Managing your agricultural cooperative (My.COOP) is a training package and programme aimed at improving the management of existing agricultural cooperative enterprises. My.COOP has been translated into ten languages and adapted for use in Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Egypt, South Africa, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Indonesia among other countries. ITC Turin organizes a distance training programmes of My.COOP in English, French and Spanish every year.
In 2013, the 19th International Conference of Labour Statisticians adopted a resolution concerning further work on statistics of cooperatives. The resolution recommends that the Office carries out further developmental work on the measurement of cooperatives, carries out pilot studies and prepares a progress report for discussion at the 20th International Conference of Labour Statisticians.
In 2015, the ILO and the ICA signed a new partnership agreement that aims to contribute to sustainable development by promoting the role of cooperative enterprises as means of implementation in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the context of the 2030 agenda. This agreement is a revised and updated version of an earlier agreement that was signed in 2004 under the framework of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).