The power of cooperatives strength in numbers

International Day of Cooperatives

What is a cooperative and why are they so important to Fairtrade? Read our International Day of Cooperatives blog to discover more.

Democracy – Equality – Solidarity – Self Responsibility – Equity – Self-help! Sounds like something you could get behind doesn’t it? Well chances are you already have, just by supporting the work of Fairtrade.

These six values are the heart of the cooperative movement, and to celebrate International Day of Cooperatives (July 2nd), we’re bringing you this blog. Consider it ‘Cooperatives 101’.

Just what is a cooperative?

The International Co-operative Alliance defines a cooperative as:

“An autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.”

At its core a cooperative is a business run by and for its members which shares its profits among those members. Globally cooperatives share seven key principles.

7 principles of cooperatives

So why is this important for Fairtrade? Because cooperatives are central to the way we work in 74 countries around the world! Within the Fairtrade system you will hear cooperatives referred to as ‘Producer Organisations’ and in 2016 we are working with 1,226 of these important enterprises. You might be wondering why Fairtrade chooses to work with cooperatives instead of farmers on an individual level. We do this because we feel that working with farmers as a collective gives us a powerful ability to drive community-wide sustainable change.

How many members or workers make up the Fairtrade Producer Organisations? 

Fairtrade Producer Organisation infographic

Fun Fact- Our largest Fairtrade producer organisation has over 80,000 members/workers and our smallest has just three!

Cooperative membership is always growing, thanks to the positive word of mouth from existing members who are excited about the great outcomes they have seen themselves since joining a Fairtrade Producer Organisation.

This is why we provide support to farmers not only to create cooperatives but to build the skills they need to keep their cooperatives strong, transparent and democratic. To support this, each Fairtrade Producer Organisation (cooperative) must have:

A General Assembly as the highest decision making body where all major decisions are discussed and taken A board of directors chosen in free, fair and transparent elections Written rules to determine who can become a member and how the organisation will be run A General Assembly Meeting at least once a year Minutes of the General Assembly Meeting Shared their annual report, budgets and accounts with the General Assembly for approval Administration in place with at least one person or committee who is responsible for managing the administration and book keeping, among others activities 

Fairtrade Producer Organisations do so much amazing work to support their members, protect our environment and empower their communities. You can learn more about them, and read their stories via the Fairtrade International website.

The 2016 theme for International Day of Cooperatives is “Cooperatives: The power to act for a sustainable future”. The link to sustainability is no coincidence, this year’s theme relates specifically to the Sustainable Development Goals adopted last September by all 193 United Nations member states. These SDGs set out to achieve three pretty extraordinary things- end extreme poverty, fight inequality and combat climate change and, when you think about it, cooperatives are perfectly placed to be powerful agents of change in these areas.

Fairtrade cooperatives work hard to foster democracy, practice social inclusion and operate with concern for the environment, all while having a significant economic impact on the world economy. We’re proud of their commitment to the principles and values of the global cooperative movement. You can salute their work today and every day by choosing Fairtrade!

Author: Erin (your resident simplifier of all things Fairtrade)