“Industrial and service cooperatives are particularly concerned by this challenge as they have, as their core mission, to provide sustainable jobs or economic activities to their members.
The fact that the members (namely the co-owners of the enterprise) are the workers or the producers themselves, sharing all the entrepreneurial responsibilities among themselves and implementing the entrepreneurial strategies together, provides a guarantee that a priority will be given to safeguarding their jobs and economic activities in the long term and with proper remuneration and working conditions. Governments can ill-afford to look aside when the cooperative movement can offer a significant part of the solution of the employment problem in the world”, underlines Bruno Roelants, Secretary General of CICOPA.

Worker ownership is a business model on the rise, according to the study ‘Cooperatives and employment: a global report’, the number of cooperative worker-members is 11 million worldwide. The results of the ILO study reveals that even in those countries where unemployment is expected to decline, especially Europe and Northern American, “long-term and youth unemployment remain significant social challenges to take into account”.

Only at the European level, over 4,000 social cooperatives in the CECOP network have as their core mission the labour integration of disadvantaged groups, a large part of who are long-term unemployed . For example, in Poland around 1,000 social cooperatives were created by at least one unemployed person. “The fact that businesses can be democratically governed including by the most disadvantaged ones provide the conditions for an adapted and long-term type of integration. Thus cooperatives are ideal partners for member states on the issue of long-term unemployment”, adds Roelants.

The ILO report points out that due to a lack of decent jobs, workers are more likely to turn to informal employment, informal non-agricultural jobs affecting over 65% of workers in one-third of countries with comparable data. In the world of work, women continue to be overrepresented as contributing family workers or in informal jobs. Furthermore, in most regions of the world, women are more likely to suffer from pay gaps, be underemployed or work under temporary contracts.

The document ‘Cooperatives are key to the transition from the informal to the formal economy’ published by CICOPA in 2015 argues that the cooperative entrepreneurial model is particularly adapted to lifting people out of poverty and carrying out the transition to the formal economy by providing a socio-economic voice and representation to ordinary citizens, economies of scale, a wide array of enterprise support services (training and education, financing, advisory services etc.), and gradual administrative formalization. Cooperatives are entrepreneurial instruments open to all people, providing the latter with the skills and the necessary economies of scale that allow them to ensure this gradual transition.

This applies in particular to vulnerable groups such as women, ethnic minorities, long-term unemployed, the disabled, immigrants etc. The recent surge of refugees into Northern, Southern and Western Europe, mostly coming from Arab States as a consequence of on-going conflicts, raises the question of integrating a large number of individuals in these labour market and society, says ILO study.

As it is currently demonstrated in the South of Europe, cooperatives are helping refugees having a more dignified life both in providing social and emergency services and in contributing to their integration according to the specific national regulations. Worker and social cooperatives have a decades-long experience in providing social services and work integration to migrants. For example, the Italian social cooperative Ruah, created in Bergamo in 2009, provides primary, psychological and social assistance, linguistic mediation and professional training to a wide range of people in need, such as migrants.

Only since 2014, it has sheltered 1,000 people, including refugees from different countries to which it offers social and professional services, thereby fostering their autonomy and labour integration .