Sustainable development is not a choice, but the only way

ILO Viet Nam Director, Chang-Hee Lee, made the speech at the celebration of the International Day of Cooperatives in Hanoi on 7 July 2018.

Statement | 06 July 2018
His excellency, Mr Ho A Lenh, Vice President and General Secretary of Fatherland Front

Mr Nguyen Ngoc Bao, President of Viet Nam Cooperative Alliance

Representatives of government agencies, party organs, social and political mass organizations, foreign embassies, international organizations and media, ladies and gentlemen.

Good morning.

Today the ILO is pleased to join the international community and Viet Nam in celebrating the International Day of Cooperatives. This year’s theme, Sustainable consumption and production of goods and services, is more than timely, as all development communities, including ILO, are gearing towards achieving sustainable development goals embodied in the 2030 Agenda.

Cooperatives have two centuries’ experience building sustainable and resilient societies. Agricultural cooperatives work to maintain the longevity of the land where they grow crops through sustainable farming practices. Consumer cooperatives support sustainable sourcing for their products and educate consumers about responsible consumption. Housing cooperatives help ensure safe dwellings. Utility cooperatives are engaged in the transition to cleaner electricity and rural access to energy and water. Worker and social cooperatives aim to provide goods and services in an efficient, planet-friendly way while creating long-term, sustainable jobs.

Today one in every six people around the globe is co-operator. The International Cooperative Alliance has now 1.2 billion members from 3 million cooperatives worldwide. Cooperatives employ, directly or indirectly, 280 million people around the world, or almost 10 per cent of the entire employed population. It shows how cooperatives contribute to resilient employment, a sustainable economy and the well-being of people at work. As such, cooperatives are key pillar of the society and economy, along with private enterprises and public sector, contributing to solidarity economy, as it is often referred in many countries.

We trust in the cooperative movement’s capability to promote responsible production and consumption practices, advance green and circular economies, and promote decent work,"

Modern history of cooperatives in Viet Nam mirrors the history of the country. Cooperative movement started when the President Ho Chi Minh called farmers to join agricultural cooperatives in 1946. Since the establishment of Viet Nam Cooperative Alliance in 1961, cooperative movement in Viet Nam has experienced various challenges and opportunities as the country itself has gone through. With the start of Doi Moi more than 30 years ago, cooperatives began to find their proper place in socialist oriented market economy under which various forms of economies and enterprises gained appropriate recognition in the country’s economic and social system. The Cooperative Law of 2012 laid the legal framework for further development of cooperatives and for their social and economic contributions. Of course, as in other areas, the enforcement remains a major challenge. It is therefore encouraging that on the 22nd May 2018, H.E Prime Minister Xuan Phuc issued an instruction to give strength to the enforcement of the 2012 law and call on relevant ministries, socio-political organizations and VCA to accelerate their implementation of action plans on cooperatives.

In Viet Nam, modern cooperatives are based on cooperative values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity; as well as ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others. In this way, cooperatives do not only make invaluable contributions to economic and social development of the country, but also help millions of people for their improved livelihood and local economic development. Recently I came across a story on an online newspaper about Mr Nga, a poor communal agricultural staff in Tra Vinh Province, who successfully set up Thanh Cong Cooperative in 2014 after years of experiments and trial and errors of producing chilli products. Now his cooperative has developed a well-organized supply chain, from production to marketing, improved the livelihood of cooperative workers in his entire district, created hundreds of direct jobs, and contributed to his local economic development. Fortunately, it is not hard to find great cases like this in Viet Nam nowadays. Since I arrived in Viet Nam nearly three years ago, I have had the opportunities to travel to many parts of the country and almost everywhere I’ve been to, there were inspiring examples of cooperatives’ vital roles in sustainable development.

Sustainable development is not a choice – it is the only way entire global population can continue to enjoy their lives on this globe which faces environmental and social challenges arising from rapid and unregulated development. That is why these days enterprises are looking for ways to improve their social and environmental footprint across the supply chains in which they operate. As a useful instrument in generating income, creating employment, advancing formalization of the informal economy and promoting better job opportunities in rural economies, cooperative enterprises are particularly well placed to find sustainable and innovative solutions that benefit producers and consumers alike.

Cooperatives at both ends of the supply chain have been joining forces to shorten value chains, improve product traceability and adopt environmentally- friendly practices. Let me give you a few examples. Kenyan producer cooperatives’ coffee, for example, has found its way on the shelves of renowned Coop Denmark. Biological pineapples from a youth cooperative in Togo are being sold in retail cooperatives across Italy, with financial and direct market-link support from the Italian cooperative movement. Such cooperative to cooperative trade results in lower trade costs, fairer prices and better incomes for their members. In East Asia and North America, consumer cooperatives have developed organic and eco-label products and educated their members about the working conditions of producers and workers, as well as on reducing food waste and plastic consumption.

Cooperatives are not only prominent in food production chains, but also in the ready-made garment industry in the world. This ranges from growing fibers, manufacturing, commercialization, to the consumption and recycling of textiles. In India, more than 15,000 organic cotton farmers are organized into cooper¬atives that train their members in eco-friendly production practices, protecting natural resources and managing watersheds and promoting collective ownership of machinery. The cooperatives further link their members to ethical textile brands in an international supply chain coalition that promotes sustainable clothing production from seed to cloth. Home-based workers in the textile and apparel industry, working as own-account workers and subcontractors, have been establishing cooperatives across South East and Southern Asia to benefit from economies of scale in buying cheaper inputs, sharing equipment, and reducing costs through pooling resources, joint selling of products, accessing financing, and negotiating better piece-rates.

The ILO also has development cooperation project experiences in supporting our partners in the field toward sustainable production and consumption through cooperatives. In Viet Nam, ILO helped to localize four training modules of the My COOP for agricultural cooperatives and then transferred those modules to a Dutch NGO (Agriterra) to enable it to organize training courses for the agricultural cooperatives throughout Viet Nam. Besides, the ILO also provided technical support to VCA to conduct an impact assessment of regional minimum wage setting on cooperatives in 2017. A project initiative on cooperatives in the digital age is being discussed and planned with VCA to further expand the above potential development cooperation related to My COOP modules.

ILO’s 2002 Promotion of Cooperatives Recommendation (No. 193) provides international framework for cooperative development in collaboration with the governments, workers’ and employers’ organizations. Cooperatives are autonomous associations of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprises. As I mentioned earlier, cooperative movement is based on distinctive values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity; as well as ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others. It is a key pillar of society and economy in today’s world. This is why we trust in the cooperative movement’s capability to promote responsible production and consumption practices, advance green and circular economies, and promote decent work across supply chains.

As you may know, ILO will celebrate its 100 years anniversary in 2019. ILO outdates most UN agencies, including the United Nations itself. And ILO has unique governance structure of tripartism, where government’s representatives sit together with representatives of workers’ and employers’ organizations. Since Viet Nam’s rejoining of the ILO in 1992, VCA, together with VCCI, has represented employers and businesses in Viet Nam. As we gear towards ILO’s centenary anniversary next year, we truly look forward to strengthening our partnership with the cooperative movement to help Viet Nam master the economic, demographic, technological and environmental challenges in a changing world of work.

Once again, big congratulations on the International Day of Cooperative! And you will be of course invited, as an esteemed guest, to ILO’s 100 years celebration next year.

Xin chúc mừng, and Xin cám ơn.