ILO COOP turns 100 - Cooperating for social justice since 1920

Established through a decision of the third session of the ILO’s Governing Body in March 1920, ILO COOP marks its Centenary in 2020. This page provides highlights on the history of the Unit.

Article | 31 January 2020
  1. Establishment of ILO COOP
  2. Photo competition & slideshows
  3. ILO COOP 100 Symposium
  4. ILO COOP 100 Webinars
  5. ILO COOP 100 Interviews
  6. ILO COOP Chiefs across time
  7. Feature videos from ILO COOP
  8. More on the history of ILO COOP
  9. Useful databases

Establishment of ILO COOP

The ILO’s Cooperatives Unit (COOP) turns 100 on 23 March 2020. The Section of Co-operation, as it was called then, was part of the Director Albert Thomas’s proposal for the organization of the office. He presented his proposal during the second session of the Governing Body (GB) in Paris, in January 1920. In his proposal, he said:

“The last Section which we actually have in mind would be the Section of Co-operation. The Peace Treaty requires that the International Labour Office should not only concern itself with conditions of work, but also with the condition of the workers. It is in the form of co-operation that this idea is best seen in popular circles. The Section on Co-operation would not limit itself only to food questions; it might also study conditions of housing, (…). Moreover, co-operation already constitutes an important international movement with which the Office must necessarily concern itself in its own interests.”

This proposal was adopted unanimously during the third session of the GB in London on 23 March 1920. Georges Fauquet was then appointed as the first Chief of the ILO's Section of Co-operation in June 1920.

Albert Thomas (Third from left, first row) at the International Committee on Inter-Cooperative Relations, 9-10 February 1931

Photo competition & slideshows

In early 2020, the ILO launched a call for photos toward a series of ILO COOP 100 Photo Exhibitions to commemorate the 100th anniversary of its Cooperatives Unit (COOP). Following the deadline for submission (June 22), a total of 379 photos were received from 37 organizations in 33 countries across five continents. The photos underwent a selection process based on a number of criteria including relevance to the themes, geographical representativeness, and capturing elements of mutualism, solidarity and self-help. The submitted photos will be featured in future publications and communications from the ILO, all the while making sure creators are correctly credited for their work. The photo exhibitions started to take place virtually through the ILO website and social media channels. 

ILO COOP 100 Slideshow I: Cooperatives provide quality care services

This series of photos feature the contribution of cooperatives and the wider SSE in providing quality care services, from childcare and eldercare to care for persons living with disability or illness.

ILO COOP 100 Slideshow II: Cooperatives help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals - SDG2

This series of photos feature the contribution of cooperatives and the wider SSE in helping achieve the SDGs, starting with SDG2 on ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture.

ILO COOP 100 Slideshow III: Cooperatives help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals - SDG5

The third in the series of slideshows focuses on SDG5 toward achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls.

ILO COOP 100 Slideshow IV: Cooperatives help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals - SDG8

The fourth in the series of slideshows focuses on SDG8 toward promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

An Update on the ILO COOP 100 Photo Exhibit Submissions

ILO COOP 100 Symposium

16 and 17 November 2020, ILO Headquarter, Geneva To celebrate the 100th anniversary of its Cooperatives Unit (COOP), the ILO aims to bring together scholars and practitioners working with governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations, as well as cooperatives and the wider social and solidarity economy (SSE) for a two-day international symposium. For more details including a call for papers, please see here

An Update on ILO COOP 100 Symposium Paper Submissions

ILO COOP 100 Webinars

ILO COOP 100 Interviews

ILO COOP 100 Interview series features past and present ILO colleagues and key partners who have closely engaged with 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. 

An Update on ILO COOP 100 Interview Series

Podcast Interview with Anna Biondi, Deputy Director of the ILO Bureau for Workers Activities (ACTRAV)

Anna Biondi, Deputy Director of the ILO Bureau for Workers Activities (ACTRAV), was interviewed by the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) for the first episode of its podcast series. She reflects on the historical relationship between cooperatives and trade unions and on the challenges and opportunities for cooperative enterprises in advancing decent work.

ILO COOP Chiefs across time

The bibliographies and works of the chiefs and heads of ILO COOP across time are highlighted here.
    The story of a friendship: Juan Somavia and Ivano Barberini

    First review meeting of the ICA-ILO MoU, February 2005, Geneva
    Except their age (Juan was born in 1941, Ivano in 1939) there was little that bound the two men together. This was until in 2001, when the International Labour Conference discussed an item on the “Promotion of Cooperatives” which led to the adoption of ILO Recommendation 193, in 2002 under the same title. One year later, Ivano invited Juan to attend the ICA General Assembly in Oslo. Juan accepted, concluding his keynote address at the event with the words; “I believe in you and what you are doing. Let’s keep cooperating together”. 

        As ILO Cooperatives Unit (COOP) marks its centenary this year, the International Labour Review (ILR), a peer-reviewed multidisciplinary journal of international scope in labour and employment studies, will be celebrating its centenary next year. Across the years, a number of articles on cooperatives were featured in the issues of the ILR. Here are a selection of ILR articles on cooperatives spanning a period from the 1920s to the 1960s.


Useful databases

NATLEX is the ILO's database featuring national laws on labour, social security and related human rights. You can find over a thousand cooperative laws at your fingertips on NATLEX going as far back as a century. Check it out here

Labordoc provides online access to all ILO publications, including guides and manuals, reports, working papers and ILO journals. ILO meeting documents, including documents of the International Labour Conference, Governing Body, Regional and other meetings are also easily accessible through Labordoc. There are close to 10,000 entries on cooperatives on Labordoc. The search can be further nuanced by using keywords, type of resource, language, publication date and more. See  here.

You can discover e-books, journal articles and other publications across hundreds of databases as well as the ILO Library's collections through LabourDiscovery. Check out over 70,000 items on cooperatives here.