ILO COOP 100 Interview

Ramin Behzad, Labour Statistician and former Labour Counselor of Iran at the ILO

Established in March 1920, the ILO’s Cooperatives Unit marks its Centenary in 2020. On this occasion, the ILO COOP 100 Interview series features past and present ILO colleagues and key partners who were closely engaged in the ILO's work on cooperatives and the wider social and solidarity economy (SSE). The interviews reflect on their experience and contributions in the past and shares their thoughts on the future of cooperatives and the SSE in a changing world of work.

Artículo | 18 de agosto de 2020

How did you get interested and involved in cooperatives?

My academic studies are in the areas of Statistics (Ph.D.) and Actuarial Science (M.Sc.). I have been working for the Iranian Ministry of Cooperatives, Labour and Social Welfare (MCLSW) since 2002. I first started my career as a labour statistician in the Labour Market Information and Statistics Centre (LMISC) of the MCLSW. As you see, the name of the Ministry begins with Cooperatives. It is due to the fact that cooperatives have a high standing in Iran. The constitutional law emphasizes the role of cooperatives in the economy. Therefore, I was dealing with information and statistics, among others, on Cooperatives in the LMISC. While working in the LMISC, I found the opportunity to participate in a number of ILO forums in Geneva including the 18th Session of the International Conference of Labour Statisticians (ICLS) in 2008. That was my first ICLS. In 2013, I was appointed as representative of my country, as labour counselor in the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva. Since then, I was further involved in the discussions around cooperatives at the international level particularly at the ILC, the GB and the ICLS Sessions.

You worked on cooperatives in your time as a labour counselor for your country in Geneva. In your opinion, how are cooperatives related to the world of work?

Cooperatives are an important means to improve the living and working conditions of women and men globally and to provide essential infrastructure and services. They have already proven their ability to generate and sustain employment and contribute to promote decent work and advance Sustainable Development Goals . Cooperatives are therefore an integral part of the world of work and can provide effective responses to the challenges and pressing issues of the world of work. For instance, cooperatives and social and solidarity economic units can play an important role in formalization of economies. It is fortunate that the role of cooperatives in this respect has been embedded in Transition from the Informal to the Formal Economy Recommendation, 2015 (No. 204).

In addition, cooperatives are instrumental in providing opportunities for productive and decent employment and improving the living and working conditions of women and men in rural areas and can be of great help in the provision of basic services, promotion of entrepreneurship, business development and expansion of social protection in rural areas.

Evidence shows, according to the ILO, in many countries women’s participation in cooperatives, as members and workers, is much higher than their overall labour force participation.

What were some of the highlights of your work during your time as labour counselor in Geneva with regard to cooperatives?

As a statistician, I would like to respond to your question, first, by stating that it is essential to produce reliable statistics on cooperatives. It is a prerequisite to see how policies and measures are translated into promotion of cooperatives.

In this respect, the 19th Session of the International Conference of Labour Statisticians (ICLS) for the first time in 2013 included cooperatives in its agenda and accordingly adopted a Resolution calling for further developmental work on statistics of cooperatives. I was very supportive of this Resolution. Then, the COPAC technical working group (TWG) on cooperative statistics was established to develop guidelines on statistics of cooperatives. I became a member of the TWG and participated in its meetings. The outcome as draft guidelines on statistics of cooperatives was presented to the 20th Session of the ICLS and was eventually adopted. I think it is a breakthrough in promotion of statistics on cooperatives.

The ILC last year adopted the Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work focusing on a human-centered agenda. I am glad to say that cooperatives and the wider social and solidarity economy have been captured by the Declaration where it calls for the need to create an enabling environment for entrepreneurship and sustainable enterprises.

Could you tell us why is there a need for the guidelines on statistics of cooperatives?

First and foremost, the guidelines provide a consolidated and clear statistical definition for cooperatives. Membership and employment in cooperatives and their classification, among other things, are important concepts in dealing with cooperatives and were discussed in the TWG. The guidelines adopted by the recent ICLS shed more light on these concepts and introduce a statistical standard in this respect.

The guidelines serve the purpose of producing quality statistics on cooperatives, which, in turn, can drive better decisions and policies on cooperatives. By applying the guidelines, international comparability of statistics on cooperatives will be improved. Besides, the improved statistics on cooperatives can enhance quality of researches into cooperatives, which are needed to gain more insight into their characteristics and their role in the economies.

I think that promotion of statistics on cooperatives can contribute to create an enabling environment for cooperatives. The National Statistical Offices and the Ministries and organizations dealing with statistics on cooperatives are now in a position to apply the guideline and generate better statistics on cooperatives.

In view of the future of work concept, I would like to underline the need to go beyond collecting data and producing statistics. What is crucial in this respect particularly at this juncture is to utilize advanced data analytics, which can drive insight and ultimately will drive better decision-making regarding cooperatives.

What do you think is the value added of the ILO in promoting and advancing cooperatives?

I believe that it is imperative to create an enabling environment for cooperatives to thrive. The ILO Promotion of Cooperatives Recommendation, 2002 (No. 193) is a great achievement in this regard. It is worth mentioning that the ILO remains the only body of the UN system with an explicit mandate on cooperatives. It gives the ILO a leading role in planning and concerting the actions on cooperatives.

Incorporation of the role of cooperatives into the recent ILO instruments including the Transition from the Informal to the Formal Economy Recommendation, 2015 (No. 204) , Employment and Decent Work for Peace and Resilience Recommendation, 2017 (No. 205) , and the Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work, adopted in 2019, are great accomplishments in the promotion of cooperatives.

The world of work is changing rapidly. Do you think cooperatives and the wider social and solidarity economy have a role to play in the future of work? If so, what are the areas you think they can play a role?

Technological developments, climate change, demographic shifts and globalization are the main drivers of change. Transformations in the world of work are occurring at an unprecedented pace and scale. The Centenary Declaration focuses on a human-centered approach and has fortunately captured the role of cooperatives and the wider social and solidarity economy when it calls for the need to create an enabling environment for entrepreneurship and sustainable enterprises. The Declaration also underscores the need for innovative solutions to generating decent work, productive employment and improving living standards for all in the face of these changes. Cooperatives are well placed to effectively contribute to shaping the future of work that we want.

As mentioned earlier, cooperatives can be an important vehicle in dealing with the issues of the world of work such as formalization of the informal economy, rural development, empowerment of women, transition to a greener economy and the elimination of child labour. They can also play a role in responding to unprecedented challenges and crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. It is due to the point that further cooperation is needed at times of crises and cooperation is an outstanding characteristic of cooperatives.