The spirit of cooperatives lives on, even with globalisation

02Jul 2020
The Guardian
The spirit of cooperatives lives on, even with globalisation

 ​​​​​​​JULY 4 is a moment that stakeholders around the world mark International Co-operative Day, an annual event for the global co-operative movement observed on the first Saturday in July since 1923 by the International Co-operative Alliance.

This year it falls on July 4, with stakeholders in the local and regional cooperative movement, where they have put up some arrangements, can exchange experience in what has been happening in the cooperatives sector over the past year. Such stock taking is not an easy matter as the work of cooperatives tends to diminish, with their place being taken by individuals using mobile phones to connect with agents, bypassing coops.

Chroniclers say that since 1995, the United Nations and the International Cooperative Alliance have been setting the theme for the celebration of the day worldwide. But owing perhaps to the current lockdown atmosphere in many countries, it has not been easy to organize overarching activity reflecting the importance of cooperatives in national and regional economic or social life. Yet at times cooperatives become a success owing to other factors, including increased inclusion of marginalized groups of people into the economy, when infrastructure is improved.

The situation where the country was celebrating the case of a small miner who dug up two tanzanite stones and was paid 8bn/- when they were bought by the Treasury, banking 7.5bn/- after taxes, without frauds being played upon him or the country, is a case in point. The spirit of the cooperative moment is one of wishing success for each one of us rather than individually, and at cut-throat competition with everyone else. The cooperative movement in part grew in tandem with frustration with the market economy, but as a matter of fact it is an aspect of markets, that it targets fairness in the working environment, rightful pay for labor, goods given.

When one talks about cooperatives in the country, the reference is likely to be on agricultural cooperative unions and the part they have played in organizing the peasants for self growth and participation in development as a whole. When one looks at that aspect it is possible to conclude that the days of vibrant cooperatives may be done with, as private buyers have greater clout owing to easier communications, and knowledge of the market even in remote rural areas. So rural producers no longer have to rely on  a more connected semi-urban elite in district offices who know about markets and national agencies to deal with, with peasants at the receiving end.

At the global level however, the International Day of Cooperatives is essentially organized by the International Cooperative Alliance and affiliated with the International Labour  Organisation (ILO) of the United Nations, not an agro-sector agency. It means that the world of cooperatives is focused on the labour rather than on the produce of members of cooperatives. That is why all such activities emancipating small miners of small crop producers – like forced hiking of cashew produce in the course of the past year – stand at par as tied to cooperatives activity generally. 

Stretching further the sense of cooperatives, it also includes political participation as without such cooperative effort at picking the right leaders to make the key decisions, nothing can be done. The cooperative spirit includes mobilizing for participation; only with strong participation are accountability mechanisms reinforced. Passivity reflects corruption - or it leads to the same.