Spotlight Interviews with Co-operators

Employment provision is among the biggest contributions of cooperatives to the sustainable development agenda

"Spotlight Interviews with Co-operators" is a series of interviews with cooperative leaders from around the world with whom ILO officials have crossed paths during the course of their work with cooperatives. For this issue, Bruno Roelants, the newly elected Director-General of the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA), spoke to ILO COOP about his new position, the relevance of decent work to the global cooperative movement, and the role of cooperatives for the future of work.

Artículo | 31 de enero de 2018

Q. Congratulations on your recent appointment as the new Director-General of the ICA! How do you think your prior work as the Secretary-General of CECOP and CICOPA will influence your approach to your new position?

Bruno Roelants, new Director-General of the ICA
I have been the Secretary General of CICOPA (International Organisation of Industrial, Artisanal and Service Producers' Co-operatives) since 2002 and of its regional organization CECOP CICOPA-Europe since 2006. CICOPA is one of the eight ICA sectoral organizations that covers workers and producers cooperatives in a range of industries and services. At CICOPA and CECOP, we have put work at the centre and employment as a main need to be met by cooperative members laying particular emphasis on decent work and its components (e.g. social protection and rights at work). Cooperatives covered by CICOPA and CECOP have been innovative in the world of work, with a wide variety of work forms including non-member employees, self-employed, worker-members and various intermediate forms. We also cover different types of cooperatives ranging from social cooperatives, freelancers’ cooperatives, and community cooperatives, to online platform cooperatives, activity and business cooperatives, labour cooperatives and multi-stakeholder cooperatives. In recent years, we have observed that work has become an increasingly central topic for other cooperative sectors as well, as the reception of CICOPA’s two successive reports on cooperatives and employment (2014 and 2017), and of the ILO-ICA research conference on the world of work in Antalya, Turkey in 2015, have shown. We are looking forward to our joint publication this year with the ILO with select papers from that conference on Cooperatives and the Changing World of Work.

Secondly, cooperatives of CICOPA and CECOP cover a large part of the International Standard Industrial Classification of All Economic Activities (ISIC), which shows that cooperatives are very open to all economic sectors.

Thirdly, industrial and service sectors also cover a big variety of enterprise sizes. The big majority are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which gives us a strong focus on small cooperatives, cooperatives among the poor and among people who, when forming the cooperative, are still in the informal economy. At the same time we have in our network big cooperatives like Acome in France and cooperative groups like Mondragon in Spain. Therefore we have taken an approach that does not differentiate according to sizes of cooperatives, big or small, which I think is important for the cooperative movement as a whole.

Q. What is the relevance of the world of work and the decent work agenda for the global cooperative movement and its work?

Both inside and outside the cooperative movement there is a realization that cooperatives are directly responsible for around 10 per cent of world employment, as noted in the approximate and conservative estimate of our "Cooperatives and Employment: Second Global Report” (2017). This type of recognition is very important at a time when employment has become so high on the agenda of governments, regional organizations like the EU and international ones like UN agencies, the World Bank, the OECD and the G20.

Our findings in the “Cooperatives and Employment: A Global Report” (2014) show that cooperative jobs tend to last longer, offer more sense of identity to people, and are better distributed between urban and rural areas (even outside agriculture) than the average. This is particularly important not only for labour policies as such, but also for policies targeted at promoting national and local economic development. So it has become clear that, although cooperatives also have other missions (such as providing housing, credit, insurance coverage, services of general interest, quality goods at affordable prices etc.), work and employment are among their biggest, tangible and statistically calculable contributions to global development. This growing awareness within the cooperative movement also contributes to providing it with a renewed sense of mission and purpose.

Q. How important do you think will the discussions led by the Global Commission on the Future of Work be for the cooperative movement?

The ILO has taken a lead in understanding the emerging issues around the future of work. There are some intense debates taking place around it, which are echoed, more than in previous big phases of restructuring of the world of work, by globalized news media and globalized IT channels and social media.

The Global Commission on the Future of Work has the mission of preparing the ILO Centenary’s agenda in 2019 regarding the Future of Work. Therefore any consideration in the Commission’s work that acknowledges cooperatives or recognizes the need for the work promoting cooperatives will have a direct impact on the Centenary discussions at the International Labour Conference next year.

In the cooperative movement, we are following the Commission’s work closely. We are very happy to note that Reema Nanavaty from SEWA (Self Employed Women’s Association) and Winnie Byanyima from Oxfam International are members of the Commission, as they represent organizations that recognize the value of the people cantered principle driven community based model of cooperatives. SEWA uses a dual strategy of trade unionism and cooperativism for economic empowerment of women in the informal economy. It feeds from the cooperative movement, the women’s movement and the trade union movement alike. Oxfam International, an international NGO which has been on the forefront of fighting poverty, has been taking note of the cooperative advantage in fighting poverty and inequality as reflected in its recent briefing note on how business structure, governance and ownership influence social outcomes and report on how we can build a human economy to reduce inequality.

Of course the issue is not solely how frequently cooperatives are being commented on or mentioned, but the extent to which such mentions in critical texts (e.g. Oxfam’s report, Global Commission’s work, Centenary Initiative text at the ILC), but how these are translated into action conducive to helping cooperatives carry out their mission of creating and consolidating employment with appropriate public policies, which in many countries are still insufficient.

Spotlight Interviews with Co-operators is a series of interviews with cooperative leaders from around the world with whom ILO officials have crossed paths during the course of their work with cooperatives. The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewees, and the article does not constitute an endorsement by the International Labour Office.