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. Planned events in 2020 for ILO COOP 100
  3. ILO COOP 100 Interview
  4. Feature videos from ILO COOP
  5. ILO COOP Chiefs across time
  6. More on the history of ILO COOP
  7. Useful databases

Establishment of ILO COOP

The ILO’s Cooperatives Unit (COOP) turns 100 on 23 March 1920. 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 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

Planned events in 2020 for ILO COOP 100 (frequently updated)

ILO COOP 100 Launch:
Monday, 23 March 2020, 13:00-15:00, at ILO Library, Geneva

The event will provide an opportunity to reflect on the ILO’s contributions to cooperative development across time. Speakers from the government, workers’ and employers’ organizations, cooperative institutions and academia will deliberate on the history and future of cooperatives and the growing interest in the social and solidarity economy (SSE). Reports highlighting cooperative innovations in the platform economy and in responding to the refugee crises will also be launched during this meeting. Details will follow soon. For more information, you can also contact us at

ILO COOP 100 Interview

Jürgen von Muralt
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. To launch this interview series we started by talking with Jürgen von Muralt, the first Director of the ILO's Enterprises Department. He told us about his studies on cooperatives, his work on development cooperation projects in Asia and the Pacific and Africa regions, and the role he sees for cooperatives in the future of work.

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.

Feature videos from ILO COOP

This video was created for the 2019 International Day of Cooperatives which focused on the theme "cooperatives for decent work" in commemoration of the ILO's Centenary. The video is available in English, with Japaneses subtitles prepared by ILO Tokyo Office.

This 3-minute video provides an overview of the Guidelines concerning Statistics of Cooperatives adopted at the 20th International Conference of Labour Statisticians (ICLS) in October 2018 and then approved by the Governing Body of the ILO in March 2019. A 1-minute version is also available here. Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish. For more details on the process, objective, contents, and follow-up, see this article

ILO COOP Chiefs across time

Georges Fauquet (1873-1953), First Chief of ILO COOP from 1920 to 1932
Albert Thomas (Third from left, first row), Georges Fauquet (Third from left, second row) and other Section Chiefs in 1921
Georges Fauquet was born in 1873 in Lillebonne, France. His work with cooperatives started early in his life. As a young doctor, he treated members of the L’Avenir de Plaisance cooperative and joined a consumer cooperative in Paris. In 1905 he passed the competitive exam for labor inspectors and inspected cooperative dairies in the Charente and Poitou regions in France. A military doctor during the first two years of World War I, he worked on increasing the role of consumer cooperatives in providing social benefits to the employees in arms factories.

In 1920 he became the Chief of the ILO’s Section of Co-operation working closely with its first Director, Albert Thomas. He served in this position until 1932. After his retirement from the ILO, Fauquet continued his work with cooperatives. He represented French cooperatives on the Central Committee of the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) from 1934 till his death in Gaillard, France in 1953. Fauquet was posthumously awarded the ICA Jubilee Triennial Prize for his contributions to cooperative thought at its 19th Congress, held in Paris in 1954.

Fauquet was a cooperative thinker who advanced cooperative theory. His principal work titled “The Cooperative Sector”, first published in 1935, defined the specific role of cooperatives as part of national and international economies, rather than as separate and distinct economic systems. He called for greater collaboration among the various types of cooperatives, particularly between agricultural cooperatives and urban consumer cooperatives.

A selection of his articles, written between 1932 and 1946, were gathered in a volume and published under the title “Insights on the Cooperative Movement” in 1949 reflecting on issues of unity of cooperation under its various forms; the integration of cooperatives; the distinctions between enterprises and associations; cooperation taken as a service enterprise; and the moral nature of cooperation.

Sources: Shaffer, Jack (1999). Historical Dictionary of the Cooperative Movement. Scarecrow Press. Lanham, MD.; Toucas-Truyen, Patricia and Michel Dreyfus (2005). Les coopérateurs : Deux siècles de pratiques coopératives. Les Editions de l'Atelier. Paris.; Lambert, Paul (1963). Studies in the Social Philosophy of Co-operation. Société Générale Coopérative. Brussels.

Maurice Colombain (1887-1966), Chief of ILO COOP from 1932 to 1947
Maurice Colombain
Maurice Colombain was born in 1887 in Calais, France. He joined the ILO when its Section on Co-operation was established in 1920 and Fauquet was appointed as its Chief. Colombain succeeded Fauquet as Chief in 1932 and remained in this position until 1947. During his time as Chief of the Section of Cooperation at the ILO, he led the first technical assistance project on cooperatives at the request of the Moroccan Government, providing policy advice for cooperative development in the country.

Following his retirement from the ILO, Colombain joined the board of the French Central Office for School Cooperatives and was a cooperative advisor to the Ministry of Overseas Affairs. He also served as President of the National Committee of the French Consumer Cooperative Federation and Director of the Institute of Cooperative Studies in Paris.

"Co-operatives and fundamental eduction" by Maurice Colombain
In 1950, Maurice Colombain was invited by UNESCO to explore the theme of cooperatives and fundamental education. His research, which was published by UNESCO in 1950 with the title “Co-operatives and fundamental education”, showed how education for cooperation was being carried out in different countries. While acknowledging general economic functions of cooperatives such as decreasing usury and indebtedness, creating economies of scale and increasing purchasing power, Colombain emphasized that participation in cooperative societies constitutes an educational experience for the members, especially for workers in the rural economy. In this monograph, he wrote:

“While they are undoubtedly effective instruments of economic development, cooperative institutions have in themselves great educational value. They give the rural community a practical type of organization which educates its members progressively. Since the cooperative expresses the needs and interests of its members, it is not surprising to note the many examples where cooperatives take an active interest in schools, even to the extent of devoting part of their profits to formal education. It has been proved possible to start cooperatives in schools, so that children can be trained in cooperative habits, and practice and theory can be combined in teaching.”

Sources: Colombain, Maurice (1950). Co-operatives and fundamental education. Paris, UNESCO; W. Jones, Phillip (1988). International Policies for Third World Education: Unesco, literacy and development. London, Routledge; Shaffer, Jack (1999). Historical Dictionary of the Cooperative Movement. Lanham, MD, Scarecrow Press.

More on the history of ILO COOP

ILO Cooperative Timeline highlights key events in the history of both the ILO’s work on cooperatives and the international cooperative movement.

The Story of the ILO’s Promotion of Cooperatives Recommendation, 2002 (No. 193) (ILO, 2015) highlights how ILO’s Promotion of Cooperatives Recommendation, 2002 (No. 193) is being used by the ILO constituents and the cooperative movement. It reflects on the impact of the Recommendation on the laws, policies and practices of countries. The publication also provides a brief account of the ILO’s engagement with cooperative development since its inception in 1919.

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 NATLEX going as far back as a century. Check it out here

Labordoc offers you all ILO publications, including guides and manuals, reports, working papers and ILO journals. Also, you can easily find ILO meeting documents, including documents of the International Labour Conference, Governing Body, Regional and other meetings. There are close to 10,000 entries on cooperatives. You can refine your search by keywords, type of resource, language, publication date and more. Check it out 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.