The ILO shows the achievements of the Recommendation No.193, one of the most important policy instruments for cooperatives

13 June 2016

The International Labour Organization (ILO) published at the end of 2015 the “Story of the Promotion of Cooperatives Recommendation No 193” (now is available in Spanish). The Recommendation was negotiated between 2001 and 2002, and approved in June 2002. The ILO report is a review of the process of making this landmark international policy instrument, its implementation and its impact.

LO Recommendation 193 on the Promotion of Cooperatives, adopted at the International Labour Conference by the majority of states, employers’ organizations and trade union confederations in the world, has provided a practical, contemporary framework for the development and revision of cooperative policies and legislation in more than 100 countries worldwide.

Elaborating this Recommendation required much effort, debate and consensus throughout between all the different countries involved. CICOPA played a central part in this effort; to reach a consensus on the text both within the cooperative movement and in the negotiations in Geneva (see the English translation of the 2003 article by Bruno Roelants published in the French review RECMA, section 3). As explained in this article, a dozen representatives of cooperative organizations obtained the necessary accreditation to be registered in the negotiating committee at the International Labour Conference as representatives of either governments, employers’ organizations or trade unions, and were thus distributed between these three constituent parts of the ILO, within a specialized Commission on cooperatives, and met informally every day to coordinate their actions. They also met with the other stakeholders (various groups of government, employers, trade unions) in various side meetings where key aspects of the text were negotiated.

Between the two rounds of negotiation (June 2001 and June 2002), CICOPA also played an important role, together with ICA-Americas (now Cooperatives of the Americas), in reaching a consensus on the text which the cooperative movement wanted to have. Most of it was finally approved in the last round of negotiations in 2002.

The Recommendation is a very important milestone for the international cooperative movement. One of its most significant aspects is that, as Roelants explain, “the concept of cooperative, for the first time since its origin at the beginning of the 19th century, was recognized fully, officially, and unequivocally at the world level, with all necessary and sufficient parameters accepted (…). At the same time, through this Recommendation, the governments, trade unions and entrepreneurs of the majority of the countries of the world explicitly recognized the need for specific public policies for the promotion of cooperatives”.

Another unique aspect of this Recommendation is that it is the first time since the ILO’s establishment at the beginning of the 20th century that an external organization to the United Nation system – the International Cooperative Alliance – is mentioned in one its official texts. Indeed, the ICA is explicitly mentioned in the Annex where the seven cooperative principles are spelt out in full as an extract from the ICA Statement on the Cooperative Identity (1995).

Apart from the seven cooperative operational principles, the text also includes the definition of cooperative and the ten cooperative values as they are formulated in the Statement on the Cooperative Identity. This is an important precedent to prevent that other socio-economic actors attempt to impose their own norms on cooperatives. The text also recognizes that cooperatives are specific enterprises that require a specific treatment.

“On the basis of this assessment, cooperatives should not only benefit from a differentiated regulatory framework, but should also be actively promoted by “special measures” (art. 5).”, Roelants continues. “The text goes as far as to say that this “should be considered as one of the pillars of national and international economic and social development” (art. 7/1)”.

The text also makes it clear that governments are the ones that are mainly responsible for the promotion of cooperatives; one of the recommended measures is that the cooperative education should be part of formal and regular education; which means –among other things- including cooperatives in the school curriculum.


Once adopted, the promotion of Recommendation 193 at the national level was mainly implemented through technical training sessions and seminars focusing on cooperative policy and law. These were initiatives of universities and research centres, national cooperative organizations and national governments. In addition, in some countries in Asia-Pacific and Africa, technical cooperation projects funded by donor agencies aimed at strengthening cooperatives and/ or employment creation through cooperatives used Recommendation No.193, among other training materials, in capacity-building activities for cooperative representatives and policy-makers.

Up to date, the Recommendation has proven its relevance to countries in their efforts to provide a solid enabling environment for cooperative enterprises. In Africa, for example, the African Union referred to Recommendation No.193 in its work on poverty reduction and sustainable development. At its summit in Ouagadougou in 2004, the African Union explicitly mentioned the development of cooperatives as a key requirement for poverty reduction and sustainable development.

Today, the document continues to be a functional tool for the development of national cooperative legislation and policies. As governments and national cooperative movements embark upon cooperative legislative reform, the text and the spirit of the Recommendation will continue to guide the process around the world.


The document not only explains what happened after the Recommendation was adopted, but in its first part it also includes the history of the relation between the ILO and the cooperative movement. One of the interesting facts showed is that Albert Thomas, the first Director of the International Labour Office (the Office), had worked within the French cooperative movement, and at the time of his nomination he was a sitting International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) Board member.

From its creation in 1919, the ILO has recognized the importance of cooperatives as a means of pursuing its mandate to achieve social justice and full employment. The ILO remains the only specialized agency of the United Nations with an explicit mandate on cooperatives. Central to ILO’s mandate is a system of international labour standards that promote opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security and dignity.