The theme for the International Day of Cooperatives, celebrated this year on July 6, is Coops 4 Decent Work. It is an apt theme, considering that cooperative businesses worldwide employ about 10% of the world’s working population. In Canada, the most recent figures show that cooperatives and credit unions employ over 195,000 people and contribute 3.4% of Canada’s GDP. Studies show that these jobs are more sustainable than those in other sectors and that there is a smaller gap in earnings between higher and lower-paid positions. Cooperative jobs also tend to be more evenly distributed between rural and urban areas.
The International Day of Cooperatives is an occasion to look beyond our borders and consider the impact of cooperatives throughout the world. The United Nations recognizes cooperative businesses as a means to eradicate poverty through the generation of full and productive employment. Cooperative businesses successfully increase economic independence, local prosperity, gender equality and food security for millions in developing countries. The versatility of the coop model means that small groups of people, often acting with international assistance, can create businesses that grow, sell and store agricultural products, create handcrafts and provide financing. The profits remain in the cooperative and local income increases.
Amid the diversity of cooperative businesses and the cultural differences between Canadian and international coops the seven cooperative principles give coops common ground. The principle of Members’ Economic Participation means that coop members have a financial interest in the health and prosperity of the business. The principle of Autonomy and Independence gives a coop the agility necessary to adapt to specific local needs.
Battle River Power Coop illustrates many of the above points. It is a cooperative business that has proven sustainability: we recently passed our 70th anniversary. Forty-nine dedicated employees have Decent Work with the cooperative and thus contribute to the local rural economy. Battle River, in its role as an electricity cooperative, buys local whenever possible, increasing the revenue of local businesses who in turn provide Decent Work for local people.