Spotlight Interviews with Co-operators

Juan Antonio Pedreño, the President of the Spanish Confederation of Social Economy Enterprises (CEPES), the President of Social Economy Europe (SEE), and the General Coordinator of the Euro-Mediterranean Social Economy (ESMED) Network

“Spotlight Interviews with Co-operators” is a series of interviews with cooperators from around the world with whom ILO officials have crossed paths during the course of their work on cooperatives and social and solidarity economy (SSE). On this occasion, ILO interviewed interviewed Juan Antonio Pedreño, the President of the Spanish Confederation of Social Economy Enterprises (CEPES), the President of Social Economy Europe (SEE), and the General Coordinator of the Euro-Mediterranean Social Economy (ESMED) Network.

Article | 31 August 2022

Could you tell us about yourself and how you got involved in cooperatives in particular and in the social and solidarity economy in general?

Well, in the most natural way. Faced with the lack of employment, especially because of the huge crisis of the early 80s, a group of young people in their early 20s decided to start a cooperative project (at that time it took seven people to build a cooperative). A training and educational project, a Vocational Training Center came about that later grew and expanded. It has been 40 years since the birth of that cooperative, Severo Ochoa, which has more than 120 people working in it, most of them full time and lifelong members. I have to say that at that time I was not familiar with the cooperative model, but I gradually absorbed it, along with its values and its governance model. And they won me over. From such understanding arose the need to support these enterprises. UCOMUR and UCOERM were born as regional entities that I currently preside.

Subsequently, at the national level, I have had the good fortune to participate in the birth of COCETA, the Spanish confederation of worker cooperatives, which I presided over. I was also part of two European organizations: CECOP and Cooperatives Europe as part of their executive boards. I also had the opportunity to participate in the creation and constitution of the Spanish Confederation of Social Economy Enterprises (CEPES) and Social Economy Europe (SEE), which I am currently proud to chair. In short... one thing leads to another, and I have become totally and absolutely involved in advocating for an enterprise model that prioritizes the value of people.

You play a leadership role at the local, national and regional levels. Could you tell us about your work in Murcia with UCOMUR (Cooperativas de Trabajo Asociado de la Región de Murcia) and UCOERM (Cooperativas de Enseñanza de la Región de Murcia)?

UCOMUR is the representative entity of worker cooperatives and Murcia is the Spanish Region with the highest number of cooperatives per 100,000 inhabitants. We have managed to create an ecosystem of cooperative social economy spread throughout the region. There are more than 1,600 cooperatives that employ, between members and workers, more than 80,000 people. This is an example of partnership that provides and is recognized as an added value in economic and social terms. There is also a very significant level of dialogue that allows for policy advocacy for instance toward advancing legislative improvements and the development of Covenants of Excellence for the social economy (the V Pact has been approved).

UCOERM is the representative entity of the educational cooperatives in the Region of Murcia. This model represents 50 per cent of the total number of publicly funded subsidized schools, something impressive if we take into account that the next closest region in Spain has a rate of only around 12-15 per cent. This presence in education allows the introduction of cooperative values in the curricula as well as the creation of school cooperatives. More than 40,000 children receive daily education and training in educational cooperatives in Murcia.

In Spain, you are the President of the Spanish Confederation of Social Economy Enterprises (CEPES). What does CEPES consist of and how does it work?

CEPES is the business organization representing the social economy as a whole in Spain. Currently, its 29 member organizations represent 90 per cent of this enterprise model at the national level. Of these: 13 are national level organizations of the different legal entities that make up the Spanish social economy (cooperatives, labour companies, mutuals, wises, special social initiative employment centers for disabled people, associations of people with disabilities and fishermen's guilds); seven are regional organizations representing the social economy and eight are specific business groups in the sector. All these business forms are covered by Law 5/2011 on the social economy, a pioneering law at international level. This law has undoubtedly represented an unprecedented turning point for the development of this enterprise model in Spain. It has also served as an absolute boost for the social economy in Europe and around the world and, of course, for strengthening CEPES.

This wealth of associations means CEPES represents the interests of more than 43,000 social economy enterprises and 2.5 million jobs, that is to say, a socioeconomic fabric whose turnover represents 10 per cent of the national GDP and almost 12.5 per cent of employment. These data make it absolutely necessary for CEPES to participate in the institutional dialogue with the Spanish Government and also with the European Institutions and International Organizations. CEPES' capacity for social dialogue has advanced significantly and allows it to influence the development of legislation and public policies in all areas, so that the legislators take social economy enterprises into account. As the business organization representing the social economy, CEPES is present in 13 consultative bodies of the Spanish Government, where we participate directly along with the rest of the social partners. And the latest proof of these actions has been the approval of a Strategic Project for Economic Recovery and Transformation (PERTE) for the Social Economy and Care Economy (under the Spanish European Recovery and Resilience Funds) endowed with 805 million euros.

CEPES operates in a collegial and coordinated manner with its members, through its governing bodies that meet monthly to adopt the most appropriate decisions at each economic and political moment. To address more technical and sectorial issues, CEPES' bylaws provide for the creation of specific working committees to design strategies for action.

You are also a leading figure in the promotion of the social economy as president of Social Economy Europe (SEE). You are also the General Coordinator of the ESMED Network (Euro-Mediterranean Social Economy). What are your priorities at the regional level in Europe and in the Mediterranean?

In 2015, the European Council of Ministers unanimously adopted a resolution qualifying the social economy as a key driver of economic and social development in Europe. Since then, our objective at the European level has been to have the potential of the social economy recognized and made visible among all Member States. We also strive to strengthen the coherence of the policies at different European institutions, States, regional and local administrations. Since then there was a process of European co-construction in favour of the social economy (quality jobs, growth, sustainability, social cohesion, green economy.....) that we have been engaging in together.

This has taken shape last December with the approval of the European Social Economy Plan. This is perhaps the most impressive public policy in favour of the social economy. It provides us with concrete instruments to develop the social economy and to grow. Our fundamental challenge and priority are to grow in order to improve scale. We aim to: influence public policies; generate more dialogue; improve the recognition and visibility of the social economy as a enterprise model that contributes to reducing inequalities, inclusive growth and sustainable development of the territories.

In March 2022, 23 member states have signed an agreement to prioritize the social economy in their policies. The time is now. All the Institutions recognize and speak of the role of the social economy, a model whose values coincide with those identified by the European Union and which are very much in line with the axes that mark the Recovery and Resilience Funds approved by Europe.

Just as the social economy has become a key player in Europe, these enterprises contribute to sustainable development at a global level and should form part of the EU's external agenda with the EU neighbours .
In this regard, for two decades we have been promoting cooperation between organizations representing the social economy in the southern and northern Mediterranean through the Euro-Mediterranean Social Economy (ESMED) Network, which CEPES has led since its inception.

The ESMED Network's institutional dialogue and cooperation with the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) has been decisive for its 43 member states to identify the social economy as a work priority. As the conclusions of the Fifth UfM Summit of Ministers of Employment and Labour held in Morocco in May 2022 point out, the social economy is a "vector for the creation of more decent jobs and the expansion of economic opportunities, especially for young people and women, leading to a more inclusive economy in the Mediterranean region. On the basis of this recognition, the UfM supports initiatives in favour of social economy entrepreneurship that are improving the living conditions of thousands of people in the Mediterranean and are providing solutions to social, economic and environmental challenges shared by the entire Euro-Mediterranean region.

In short, it is exciting to see how the work we are doing in Europe and the Mediterranean has a direct impact on the territories to build an economy that works for people through social economy enterprises.

In your different responsibilities, you collaborate with the ILO and its constituents. In this regard, you are a member of the Spanish Economic and Social Council. Could you tell us about your commitment to the ILO and your opinion on the role of the ILO in promoting cooperatives and the social and solidarity economy in general at the international level?

The dialogue with the ILO is permanent and is giving very positive results.

As a co-operativist and member of the International Cooperative Alliance, especially since my responsibility at the time as president of COCETA, I had the opportunity to support the work for ILO Recommendation 193 on the promotion of cooperatives, which this year we are celebrating its 20 years of history.

Our collaboration has intensified as the ILO has exponentially increased its initiatives around the social economy as a whole. This dialogue has been especially intense in Spain, as a country with important public policies on the social economy.
In 2019 CEPES and the Spanish Ministry of Labour co-organized in Madrid with the ILO the XIth Social and Solidarity Economy Academy to which we gave a title with which we wanted to mark a clear objective in line with the ILO Centenary Declaration: "The Social Economy in the Future of Work".

The Madrid event was an important moment. More than 400 people from 40 countries attended the inauguration of the Academy, whose work and conclusions helped to concretize how the social economy generates productive employment and better living standards for all people. Fortunately, this role is now indisputable, thanks in large part to the Resolution that the ILO adopted last June on decent work and the social economy.

The ILO Resolution concerning decent work and the social and solidarity economy, together with the European Social Economy Action Plan and the OECD Recommendation on the Social Economy and Social Innovation, also adopted last June, creates an unprecedented momentum. The ILO has been a great advocate for the social economy to be recognized globally as an actor that generates more quality jobs and promotes sustainable and inclusive growth.

I consider it very positive that the ILO is already working along these lines, as demonstrated by the fact that one of the commitments resulting from its High-Level meeting with the European Commission in July is that the ILO and the EU will work together to develop favourable ecosystems for the social economy. In the same way, the strategy and action plan on decent work and the social and solidarity economy that, as established in the Resolution, will have a very important impact upon its discussion and approval at the 346th ILO Governing Body in October/November 2022.

In this regard, I would like to express our interest in co-constructing with the ILO and contributing to the success of this strategy and action plan, which will have a direct impact on the ambitious objectives set out in the Resolution on decent work and the social and solidarity economy adopted at the 110th International Labour Conference. The preparation of these documents is an opportunity for the ILO to establish a structured dialogue with social economy stakeholders and to incorporate the diversity of actors that contribute to generating decent work and maintaining quality jobs. Because we, the representative organizations of social economy enterprises, together with the social partners, contribute to creating a fair, inclusive and secure future of work with full employment for all.

The world of work is undergoing substantial changes with digitalization, climate change, demographic changes and the global pandemic. What do you see as the role of cooperatives and the social and solidarity economy in general in this changing context?

The pandemic has characterized the end of a period. To a large extent, the Recovery Funds are the first element that shape the future context in which CEPES and Social Economy Europe develop their activities. Both the Government of Spain and other European governments and the European Commission itself have positively assessed the role of the social economy during the pandemic, demonstrating that it is a particularly resilient model. The design of the Funds has taken into account the need to provide a coordinated response in Europe to the economic and social consequences of the pandemic, configuring a multi-year financial framework to be deployed in each Member State. The Next Generation of funds and other instruments will be used to promote investments and reforms in areas related to the main needs and trends of the coming years.

Therefore, in the context of the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan of the Government of Spain and Europe, the European social economy has the opportunity to articulate mechanisms that allow funds to reach micro and small enterprises in the social economy that have the potential to create added value.

The Recovery Plan is rightly articulated around four cross-cutting axes to whose development the social economy can make a significant contribution. In the area of the Ecological Transition, it is a fact that sustainability has become a key trend around which the social economy must position itself as a benchmark. The same applies to the Digital Transformation, in which we face important challenges to implement new ways of working (teleworking, online platforms, etc.) that must be consolidated both in social economy enterprises and in representative organizations. Digitalization may increase productivity, with new digital solutions that allow the entry into new sectors. In my opinion, in this whole process there is a need to make technological development compatible with proximity to people, avoiding the risk of dehumanization.

In the case of Spain, and also at the European level, social and territorial cohesion is of particular importance. The factors and perspectives from which this need is analyzed are diverse and are understood to be closely related to the Sustainable Development Goals. I am referring to the development of the local and avoid the depopulation of towns, to inclusive growth, in which all people fit, leaving no one behind and in the development and health resilience, which points towards market opportunities in which the social economy can have a relevant presence, in the care economy, where we have a relevant presence. This presents itself as a great opportunity to implement the new care models and the digitalization of this sector.
Undoubtedly, the aging of the population will have strong implications of various kinds for the social economy. We are facing a need for replacement especially in rural areas, and in primary activities and in the emerging new market segments, with high consumption capacity.

Another aspect that I would like to highlight is the high rates of youth unemployment, which is particularly prevalent in Spain. With the pandemic youth unemployment rate remains very high. The social economy must contribute to its mitigation. Policies must be developed for future generations, placing great emphasis on value-based education and professional training adapted to new jobs and new emerging sectors. It is also necessary to work on collaboration between territories. There is a need to make the agricultural and fishing sectors, where the social economy is prominent, more visible.