ILO COOP 100 Interview

ILO COOP 100 Interview with Ünal Örnek, Coordinator of the Central Union of Turkish Forestry Cooperatives (ORKOOP)

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.

Article | 01 December 2020

You are an agricultural engineer, a project manager, and a journalist. Could you tell us how you first started working with cooperatives?

First of all, I would like to congratulate you for the 100th anniversary of the ILO’s Cooperatives Unit. I would also like to thank ILO COOP for its strong support for the world cooperative movement. My start working with cooperatives is in the Union of Agricultural Chambers of Turkey, the largest professional organization of farmers in Turkey, in 1984. During this process, I worked on agriculture, forestry, as well as cooperatives.

I have worked on providing technical support to the members of the Agricultural Chambers. Many of their members are also cooperatives. I took part in the work carried out in the country on behalf of Agricultural Chambers related to agricultural cooperatives. I have written articles on agriculture as well as cooperatives in agricultural magazines and newspapers and participated in many television programs. I consulted on programs related to agriculture and cooperatives on Turkish State television (TRT).

In Europe there was the European Agricultural Confederation before the COPA COGECA. I was a member of the Board of Directors of the European Confederation of Agriculture (CEA), headquartered in Brussels, where agricultural cooperatives and agricultural organizations in Europe are members.

Between 2004 and 2009, I worked as an expert and Project Team Leader in a project on developing the capacities of agricultural cooperatives and farmers' organizations in Turkey. Since 2009, I have been working in the Central Union of Forestry Cooperatives of Turkey (ORKOOP), where forest villagers are members.

Since 2017, I have been a board member of Cooperative Europe, the continental organization of the International Cooperatives Alliance on behalf of ORKOOP. ORKOOP is a member of ICA International Agricultural Cooperatives Organisation (ICAO) and President of ORKOOP, Cafer Yüksel, is a member of the board of directors. I follow upon ICAO work on behalf of ORKOOP.

I also follow the work of sectoral organizations under the umbrella of ICA and especially social cooperatives, which I believe will perform important tasks in the changing world of work. I took part in the studies carried out on social cooperatives in Turkey. I also provide technical support to the work of the National Cooperatives Union of Turkey.

You have worked with ORKOOP for many years. Could you tell us what is ORKOOP about? 

The Central Union of Forest Cooperatives of Turkey describes itself as the organizing force of forest peasants. ORKOOP is a truly democratic popular movement born out of years of struggle as a result of the sacrifices of thousands of forest villagers. ORKOOP, the Central Association of Forestry Cooperatives of Turkey, was founded in 1997.

ORKOOP is an agricultural cooperative. But it shows the characteristic of a labour cooperative. There are 28 regional associations and 3,000 unit cooperatives affiliated to ORKOOP across the country. About 300,000 forest villagers are ORKOOP members.

All forests in Turkey belong to the state. Forestry cooperatives undertake the forest affairs of the state. Cooperatives take care of the forests with forest villagers as their members. Cooperatives protect and defend the social and economic interests of their members.

Cooperatives find jobs for their members, help them in the production and marketing of plant production, livestock products and non-wood products. Cooperatives organize training programs and train their members in agricultural production, especially Forestry. Cooperatives train their members on occupational safety in forestry, which is one of the most dangerous jobs after mining in the world. ORKOOP gives its members a certificate of professional competence in forestry in accordance with national and international standards for certified production.

Forestry cooperatives work to ensure that villagers receive a fair share of national income. Activities aimed at developing and expanding forests in Turkey aim to realize forestry production in accordance with national interests. The forest performs a leadership role to provide social rights to villagers. It works on education, supervision and support to raise awareness in forest villages and cooperatives.

ORKOOP is the most important player in green economy and business in Turkey. ORKOOP supports green economy and jobs for the future of the world.

You have been involved in a number of initiatives that are supportive of creating a more conducive cooperative ecosystem in Turkey. Could you tell us more about the state of the cooperative ecosystem in Turkey? 

Unfortunately, the social and economic policies implemented in Turkey so far have not been able to produce adequate solutions to the problems. Problems remain in agriculture and in many sectors. Government and private sector investments are not enough to produce solutions for solving problems. The need for public support and solidarity is growing day by day. Increasing interest in cooperatives at the Global level the UN's International Year of Cooperatives in 2012 has had a positive impact on our country.

Developments in cooperatives in the world have started to be monitored from the internet with the developing communication technology. Even circles that once shied away from cooperatives in all sectors have begun to see cooperatives as the most important model for the solution. There were previously agricultural, housing and consumption cooperatives in Turkey. Now new cooperatives have started to be established in every sector.

In recent years, many cooperatives such as women's cooperatives, youth cooperatives, Education Cooperatives, energy cooperatives and social cooperatives have been established. Especially ministries, universities and related organizations have started to give more place to cooperative trainings and projects. Interesting programs such as the cooperative train and the cooperative bus, which conduct educational and promotional activities serving every region throughout the country, have been made.

The work of the International Cooperatives Alliance has begun to be closely monitored and evaluated. Now there are more educated, high-quality and responsive academics, staff and communities in cooperatives in Turkey. Programs supporting cooperatives began to increase. Demands for legislation related to cooperatives have begun to increase.

The importance of the upper Organization of cooperatives has begun to be seen. According to the law in Turkey, three ministries are working on cooperatives. Today, the legal Top Organization of all cooperatives in the country is the National Union of Cooperatives of Turkey. The National Cooperatives Union of Turkey (NCUT) represents cooperatives in national and international level.

Today, cooperatives are in great need to solve the problems in the Turkish economy and social life. Young people, women and disadvantaged groups see this very well. The work of these groups has brought a new excitement and spirit to the Turkish cooperative movement.

There is a growing phenomenon of new generation cooperatives in Turkey from youth cooperatives and renewable energy cooperatives to women’s cooperatives and social cooperatives. What do you think are the reasons for the growing interest in new generation cooperatives and the wider social and solidarity economy in Turkey?

The first reason for the growing interest in new generation cooperatives in Turkey and the wider social and solidarity economy are the growing economic and social problems in the country. The other reason is the developments in the cooperative movement around the world. These developments are reflected in our country.

Cooperatives are seen as models for solving many problems in our country, such as increasing unemployment, lack of livelihood, health problems, barriers to social services, inequalities for disadvantaged groups, increasing energy needs and so on. On the other hand, developments in transportation and Communication Technology in the world, the increase of internet communication application, increased the sharing of knowledge and experience related to cooperatives.

The work and recommendations of the ICA and organizations affiliated to the UN, especially the ILO, have begun to be closely monitored. In recent years, those who were interested in cooperatives have started to research and follow the developments in the world with the power of developing technology while waiting for everything from the state. Information sources in cooperatives have reached international level outside national borders. Youth, energy, women and other social cooperatives have reached a level that closely follows the world with international contacts.

For ILO COOP 100 interviews, we have asked each of our interviewees what they think is the role and value added of the International Labour Organization for the cooperative movement. Would you care to share your thoughts on that with us?

The ILO's works is very important for the world’s cooperative movement. The ILO strives to improve and deliver respect for Human Rights, respectable living standards, humane working conditions, employment opportunities and economic guarantees, which are the main elements of social justice, to all employees. The ILO's work contributes greatly to determining state policies related to cooperatives, which are one of the most important elements of the registered economy.

ILO COOP's support for cooperatives employment for women, young people and immigrants, where the principles and values of cooperation are at the forefront, is the most meaningful work of the 21st century. ILO COOP's approach to solving refugee problems in Europe, which reveals how important the social aspect of cooperatives is to humanity, has given strength to the cooperative movement.

The world is facing a new set of challenges with the global pandemic, climate change, forced displacements of people and ensuing economic crises, which further exacerbate existing inequalities and vulnerabilities. What do you think is the role that cooperatives and the wider social and solidarity can play in the face of these challenges?

Today, we all know that overcoming global problems in our region and around the world is possible with social and economic solidarity. The global COVID-19 pandemic process in which we live today has shown us how important solidarity is. During this period, the services of cooperatives in agricultural production, health, social services and in many areas within the social responsibility for their members and people in the region in which they are located made a great contribution to overcoming the problems.

Cooperatives have shown solidarity both nationally and internationally. They have worked out their responsibilities to their members and their environment. They acted not with economic expectations but with social responsibility. During the pandemic process, they provided largely unrequited services in the field of providing PPEs, cleaning products, disinfectants, emergency medical supplies, and food aid to protect against the pandemic. Cooperatives have become the most important actor of food and health assurance around them. Cooperatives have gained the trust and support of the community against possible food crises through their services.