Cooperative values and principles


Cooperatives globally adhere to a unified set of principles and values, established by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) in 1995. These principles have their origins in the first modern cooperative, founded in Rochdale, England, in 1844.

The concept of cooperatives has deep historical roots. While many early cooperative efforts faced challenges in sustaining their ventures, the Rochdale pioneers, established in England in 1844, are recognised as the founders of the modern cooperative movement. They laid down the foundational principles and practices for running an effective and fair cooperative business. With growing interest in cooperative models, a Rochdale pioneer initiated the International Co-operative Alliance to foster the cooperative movement on a global scale.

Today, cooperatives worldwide operate under these shared principles and values ratified by the ICA. These organizations, formed by autonomous individuals, are driven by a commitment to volunteerism, democratic processes, and addressing shared cultural, social, and economic needs.


Cooperative values

Cooperatives are based on the values of self-helpself-responsibilitydemocracyequalityequity, and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, cooperative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.


The 7 Cooperative Principles

The cooperative principles are guidelines by which cooperatives put their values into practice.



Cooperative principle 1: Voluntary and Open Membership

Cooperatives are organizations that anyone can join, as long as they wish to use their services and agree to take on the responsibilities of being a member. These groups make a point of being open to all, without discriminating based on gender, social status, race, political views, or religion. This principle ensures that cooperatives are accessible to a wide range of people, fostering an environment of diversity and inclusion.

The core of principle 1 is about giving everyone the chance to be part of the cooperative, allowing them to contribute their views, skills, and efforts to help the cooperative grow. It’s built on the idea of democracy and equality, where every member’s input is valued the same. By making membership open to all, cooperatives create a community where respect and teamwork are fundamental. This not only makes the cooperative stronger but also shows the community outside how diverse groups can work together effectively.

Voluntary and open membership is about making sure that cooperatives are a welcoming space for everyone who wants to join. It involves putting in place policies that ensure no one is left out and that the cooperative’s services are easy for everyone to access. This approach helps build businesses that are not just focused on success but also on being fair and socially responsible.


Cooperative principle 2: Democratic Member Control


Cooperatives are guided by the principle that every member has a say in how the organization is run. This means that all members, regardless of their level of involvement or investment, participate in making important decisions. It’s a system where each member gets one vote, ensuring that the cooperative’s direction reflects the collective will and interests of its entire membership.

This democratic approach is at the heart of how cooperatives operate. Members elect representatives to act on their behalf, but these elected leaders are always accountable to the members themselves. This accountability ensures that decisions made by representatives align with the members’ needs and aspirations. Regular meetings, open discussions, and transparent reporting are common practices that help maintain this democratic control. Members are encouraged to voice their opinions, offer suggestions, and take an active role in the governance of the cooperative.

Moreover, this principle asserts that cooperatives are not just focused on profits but on serving their members’ best interests. By prioritizing democratic member control, cooperatives ensure that they remain closely aligned with their members’ values and goals. This model promotes a sense of ownership and responsibility among members, strengthening their commitment to the cooperative and to each other.

Democratic member control means that every member, no matter how large or small their contribution, has an equal stake in the cooperative’s success. It’s a way of operating that champions fairness and shared responsibility, setting cooperatives apart from traditional businesses where decision-making is often concentrated in the hands of a few.


Cooperative principle 3: Member Economic Participation

Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their cooperative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the cooperative. Members usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing their cooperative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the cooperative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.

Cooperative principle 4: Autonomy and Independence

Cooperatives operate independently, making decisions based on their members’ needs and preferences. They prioritize self-governance, ensuring they remain free from external control, even when partnering with others or accepting outside funding. The key is that any external relationships must always respect the cooperative’s member-driven mission and not compromise its values.

This principle is about safeguarding the cooperative’s ability to serve its members effectively, without outside influence dictating its actions. It ensures that cooperatives stay focused on their primary goal: benefiting the members. Autonomy is crucial for maintaining a cooperative’s identity and purpose, fostering a sense of trust and unity among members. It’s a commitment to staying true to the cooperative’s values and ensuring that all decisions benefit the collective.



Cooperative principle 5: Education, Training, and Information

Education, training, and information are pivotal in empowering members, leaders, employees, and the broader community to contribute effectively to the cooperative’s development and the cooperative movement at large. This principle reflects the cooperative’s commitment to fostering an environment of continuous learning and improvement. By investing in education and training, cooperatives ensure that all stakeholders have the knowledge and skills necessary to participate fully in the cooperative’s activities and governance. Furthermore, by informing the public about the cooperative model, its benefits, and its potential to transform economies and societies, cooperatives extend their influence beyond their immediate community. This principle is about building a knowledgeable, skilled, and engaged membership and public, equipped to navigate the challenges of the present and future, embodying the cooperative’s values in all aspects of life.

Cooperative principle 6: Cooperation among Cooperatives

By embodying the spirit of solidarity, cooperatives recognize the strength in working together to achieve greater economic and social impact. This principle emphasizes the value of mutual support, shared knowledge, and collective action within the cooperative movement. It encourages cooperatives to collaborate through local, national, regional, and international structures, leveraging their collective resources and networks to enhance their effectiveness and reach. Cooperation among cooperatives fosters a unified approach to addressing common challenges, promoting innovation, and advocating for the cooperative model. This collaborative ethos strengthens the individual cooperatives and the movement as a whole. It demonstrates the power of collective action in creating a more equitable and sustainable world.



Cooperative principle 7: Concern for Community

This principle encapsulates the cooperative movement’s commitment to contributing positively to the welfare of their communities, emphasizing sustainable development as a core objective. Cooperatives engage in initiatives that address the economic, social, and environmental needs of their communities, driven by policies approved by their members. This approach to community engagement reflects a deep understanding of the interdependence between cooperatives and their communities, recognizing that the success of one contributes to the success of the other. Through this principle, cooperatives act as catalysts for positive change, championing projects that promote social responsibility, environmental sustainability, and economic inclusivity. It highlights the cooperative’s role not just as an economic entity, but as a community partner dedicated to building a better, more sustainable future for all.

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