A co-operative is a group of people that gets together to organise collectively for mutual benefit. Work, housing, services, pubs and social centres can all be co-operatively owned and managed.
Co-operation – working together with others rather than competing with them – is as old as history, but modern co-operative businesses have been around for just 200 years. Co-operatives were formed by workers in the 18th century who set up shops to break the monopoly of the large factory bosses supplying overpriced, low quality food to workers. The shops not only provided good food at a decent price, they also provided fair and equitable conditions for those working there.
And it’s in these footsteps that we follow. We are passionate about the power of co-operation and the alternative way of working with each other that co-operatives enable. They offer a solution to the growing sense of powerlessness people feel over business and the economy, giving people control of the businesses they are closest to – whether you shop at them, work at them or supply them. People of all kinds benefit in many different ways through membership of a co-operative, and for us it’s through our work at Leeds Bread Co-op and the livelihood and fulfillment it provides for us as workers.
Often co-ops look like any other business. But what makes co-operatives unique is that they are run not by institutional investors or distant shareholders, but by their members. People like you and us – customers, employees, residents, farmers, artists, taxi drivers…
Co-operative Principles & Values
Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.
The Co-operative Principles (agreed by the International Co-operative Alliance) are the guidelines by which co-ops put these values into practice:
1st Principle: Voluntary and Open Membership
Membership of a Co-operative is voluntary – you can’t be forced into joining, nor can you be excluded because of discrimination.
2nd Principle: Democratic Member Control
Co-operatives are democratic organisations – they’re controlled only by their members. Members should have democratic control (ie consensus or “one member, one vote”).
3rd Principle: Member Economic Participation
Members have a fair stake in the co-op, and unlike share capital in a normal company, the stake should only have a nominal return (eg so that it doesn’t lose its value due to inflation). This capital can be used as the members decide.
4th Principle: Autonomy and Independence
Co-operatives are autonomous, self-help organisations. They are controlled only by their members. They shouldn’t make agreements or contracts that would compromise their autonomy or the democratic control by members.
5th Principle: Education, Training and Information
Co-operatives provide education and training for their members. This is to ensure the development of the co-operative.
Co-ops should also provide education and information to the general public to inform them about the nature and benefits of co-operation.
6th Principle: Co-operation among Co-operatives
Co-operatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the co-operative movement by working together. This can be done through local, national, regional and international structures.
7th Principle: Concern for Community
Co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities.