In front of the United Nations General Assembly, Dame Pauline Green, President of the International Co-operative Alliance, has called for countries to provide co-operatives with a level playing field in the business world.
Dame Pauline, at the UN's launch of the International Year of Co-operatives in the General Assembly, said nations should take co-operatives much more seriously. Following on from a morning roundtable discussion which heard from co-operative representatives around the world, Dame Pauline said their work would be much easier and productive "if the co-operative model of business was taken more seriously".
She said: "Firstly, member-owned co-operatives are a serious business model – with scale. And so, co-operatives are asking that the specific and unique legal and financial framework of a co-operative is fully acknowledged and recognised in public policy and regulation.
"Secondly, member-owned co-operatives are values led businesses. Our values are integral to our business model, not just a marketing tool in the shape of a corporate social responsibility report once a year – they define our identity and our brand – they are part of our DNA. Co-operatives are asking that their model of business is given equal promotion with the stock holder model.
"And thirdly, our governance model is people led. At a time when people — especially young people whom this recession is hitting so cruelly — are cynical of the political and economic models that dominate their lives, when they are looking for a voice, in North Africa, in Wall Street and across the world, and when they are looking for impact, the co-operative is not only an effective governance model, it is a compelling one.
"Co-operatives are asking that there should be a greater diversification of the global economy, to ensure a level playing field for the member-owned model of business."
Delegates at the UN, which included member state representatives and co-operative leaders from around the world, heard the facts about co-operatives from Dame Pauline: "For nearly 200 years, co-operatives have been creating jobs across the world – currently over 100 million of the world’s citizens are employed within a co-operative.
"They reflect the fact that co-operatives since their inception have not sought to ape their corporate competitors and maximise their profits, but rather to meet the needs of their member owners — no wonder then that today the co-operative movement is owned by nearly one billion people across the globe. And they reflect the fact that the co-operatives have been a powerful player in embedding civil society across the world through the powerful medium of the creation of member-owned businesses."
Dame Pauline said the sector's "commitment to our democratic and social agenda is built on a sound and successful member-owned business model". On the day of the launch of the Global 300 report, listing 300 co-operatives that have generated over $1.6 trillion (USD) in revenue, Dame Pauline said co-operatives can compete successfully in the marketplace with other forms of business.
She added: "Our challenge is to make sure that more people in decisions-making positions, or those who exercise influence in the political or economic spheres, or indeed in the media, know about the scope, size and scale of the co-operative sector of the economy, and the work it does to sustain and build communities across the world, and its capacity to do so much more.
"The collapse of the financial sector of the global economy has had tragic results for families and communities in many parts of the world. It is well documented now, not least by the International Labour Organisation, that there is one part of the financial sector that has continued to grow its asset base over the last four years, where account holders and deposits have grown and which has continued to lend, and indeed grown its lending to families and businesses — co-operative financial institutions of course. Co-operatives are people based businesses, and unlike their competitors are not constitutionally bound to work to maximise profits for its shareholders."
In concluding her address to the UN General Assembly, Dame Pauline said the co-operative movement is concious of the gift of the International Year, a "gift that recognises the co-operative impact on the socio-economic development of the world, and its capacity to so much more". She added: "It is an honour and a privilege for me to take the podium in this iconic chamber. I am proud to do so in the name of the one billion co-operators across the world, and I pay tribute to the great work that they do across this world to make it a better place.
"Together co-operatives will work to make this International Year a powerful restatement of the co-operative ideal, and it is our aim, that on the 31st December 2012 we will be able to pivot from a successful International Year of Co-operatives to a decade of co-operative growth."