Second Global Report on “Cooperatives and Employment”

26 January 2018

Employment is one of the most important contributions made by cooperatives throughout the world. Whilst taking into account initiatives and debates at the international level regarding the issues of the future of work and the changing world of work, the present report also aims at updating the 2014 study, “Cooperatives and employment: a Global Report”, by:

  1. providing an update on the quantitative information on cooperative employment at the global level;
  2. presenting propositions to develop conceptual tools aimed at producing reliable information on work and employment in cooperatives;
  3. examining the contribution of cooperatives to work and employment in informal employment and in the new forms of work.

Download the report: Cooperatives and Employment Second Global Report 2017 [EN, PDF]

The present report proposes a pragmatic method by using cooperative typology as a proxy, highlighting information on different forms of cooperative employment. The key element of the method consists in reclassifying currently used types of cooperatives according to meta-types which represent different forms of cooperative employment, namely employees, worker-members and producer-members. We propose six meta-types, namely, “user cooperative”, “producer cooperative”, “worker cooperative”, “multi-stakeholder cooperative”, “secondary cooperative” and “enterprise cooperative”, according to the members’ function in relation to their cooperative.

However, apart from some technical problems that could be solved by obtaining more qualitative information on currently used typologies, a number of conceptual issues should be discussed further, such as the distinction between producer cooperatives and worker cooperatives, statistical definitions for worker ownership and boundary issues concerning employment in subsidiaries and enterprise-members in enterprise cooperatives.

By using the proposed method and considering the issues being raised, the report presents updated quantitative information on cooperative employment, as well as on the number of cooperatives and types of members. Based on data from 156 countries, the updated estimate shows that employment in or within the scope of cooperatives concerns at least 279.4 million people across the globe, in other words 9.46% of the world’s employed population. Out of this figure, 27.2 million work in cooperatives, including around 16 million cooperative employees and 11.1 million worker-members.

Employment within the scope of cooperatives, comprising mainly self-employed producer-members, concerns over 252.2 million people, the vast majority being in agriculture. The number of cooperatives throughout the world is 2.94 million and the number of members in all types of cooperatives is 1,217.5 million.

Turning then to qualitative aspects of cooperative employment, the report examines cooperatives’ specific contributions to addressing problems related to work and employment in the informal economy. While underlining the importance of an integrated approach based on the involvement of various stakeholders, this report proposes that cooperatives be part of such integrated solution, in various ways:

  • People working in the informal economy who join savings and credit cooperatives, mutual insurance cooperatives, multi-purpose cooperatives and consumer cooperatives have access to certain formal or semi-formal services and are connected to the formal arrangements they need in their life and in their work. In particular, these cooperatives can provide them with easier access to credit, education and training, affordable goods and services to meet their basic needs and a certain level of social protection based on solidarity and mutual help.
  • Self-employed producers/entrepreneurs who join shared service cooperatives based on a horizontal integration strategy gain access to various services supporting members’ economic activities, which help them to attain economies of scale and a higher bargaining power.
  • For the self-employed workers and freelancers who have considerably increased in number over the last decades, cooperatives could be used by trade unions or member based organisations as a tool to organize them, but could also provide innovative models which could guarantee both flexibility and protection.
  • Worker cooperatives, which aim at providing decent jobs to their worker-members, can be a direct solution to the formalization of informal employment. However, to fully display their potential contributions, a favourable environment and an appropriate legal framework are necessary.

In addition, the present report pays special attention to the potential contribution of cooperatives to technological development and accompanying social change. In the changing world of work, cooperatives need to respond to new opportunities and challenges. The concepts of “platform cooperativism” and “commons” could usher in innovative ways of working in, and with, cooperatives in the 21st century. However, while fully recognizing the contribution made by these new concepts, this report proposes their combination with the tools and methods of the cooperative movement, which would strengthen and give concrete expression to the contribution they are able to make to address problems related to work and employment in the changing world of work.

Download the report: Cooperatives and Employment Second Global Report 2017 [EN, PDF]