What is a Co-operative?
A cooperative is defined 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.
A cooperative may also be defined as a business owned and controlled equally by the people who use its services or who work at it.
There are different types of co-operatives:
A housing cooperative is a legal mechanism for ownership of housing where residents either own shares reflecting their equity in the co-operative's real estate, or have membership and occupancy rights in a not-for-profit co-operative and they underwrite their housing through paying subscriptions or rent.
Members of a building cooperative (in Britain known as a self-build housing co-operative) pool resources to build housing, normally using a high proportion of their own labour. When the building is finished, each member is the sole owner of a homestead, and the cooperative may be dissolved.
A retailers' cooperative (known as a secondary or marketing co-operative in some countries) is an organization which employs economies of scale on behalf of its members to get discounts from manufacturers and to pool marketing. It is common for locally-owned grocery stores, hardware stores and pharmacies. In this case the members of the cooperative are businesses rather than individuals.
A utility cooperative is a public utility that is owned by its customers. It is a type of consumers' cooperative. In the US, many such cooperatives were formed to provide rural electrical and telephone service.
A worker cooperative or producer cooperative is a cooperative that is owned and democratically controlled by its "worker-owners". There are no outside owners in a "pure" workers' cooperative, only the workers own shares of the business, though hybrid forms in which consumers, community members or capitalist investors also own some shares are not uncommon. Membership is not compulsory for employees, but generally only employees can become members. However, in India there is a form of workers' cooperative which insists on compulsory membership for all employees and compulsory employment for all members. That is the form of the Indian Coffee Houses. This system was advocated by the Indian communist leader A. K. Gopalan.
A consumers' cooperative is a business owned by its customers. Employees can also generally become members. Members vote on major decisions, and elect the board of directors from amongst their own number. A well known example in the United States is the REI (Recreational Equipment Incorporated) co-op, and in Canada: Mountain Equipment Co-op.
The world's largest consumers' cooperative is the Co-operative Group in the United Kingdom, which offers a variety of retail and financial services. The UK also has a number of autonomous consumers' cooperative societies, such as the East of England Co-operative Society and Midcounties Co-operative.
Migros is the largest supermarket chain in Switzerland and keeps the cooperative society as its form of organization.
Coop is another Swiss cooperative which operates the second largest supermarket chain in Switzerland after Migros.
Agricultural cooperatives are widespread in rural areas.
In the United States, there are both marketing and supply cooperatives. Agricultural marketing cooperatives, some of which are government-sponsored, promote and may actually distribute specific commodities. There are also agricultural supply cooperatives, which provide inputs into the agricultural process.
In Europe, there are strong agricultural / agribusiness cooperatives, and agricultural cooperative banks. Most emerging countries are developing agricultural cooperatives.
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