The International Cooperative Alliance: Statement of Cooperative Identity

Food cooperatives differ from other business structures in their adherence to the Seven Principles of Cooperation and cooperative values that reflect social, political, and business concerns. Cooperatives trace the roots of these principles to the Rochdale pioneers, who established the first modern cooperative in Rochdale, England, in 1844. These principles guide and protect the integrity of our business as a democratic institution beholden only to our Member-Owners (you). They also ensure a thriving business for decades to come.

The Statement of Cooperative Identity has been periodically updated by the International Cooperative Alliance, most recently in 1995.

Definition of a Cooperative

A cooperative is 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.

Cooperative values

Cooperatives are based on the values of self-helpself-responsibilitydemocracyequalityequity, and solidarity. In addition to the main cooperative values, all coops function under the ideals of honesty, openness, social responsibility, and caring for others. The cooperative values serve as guidelines for all coop organizations and their members.

Cooperative Principles

The cooperative principles are guidelines by which cooperatives put their values into practice.

1. Voluntary and Open Membership

Cooperatives are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political, or religious discrimination.

2. Democratic Member Control

Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. People serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership.

3. Member Economic Participation

Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their cooperative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the cooperative. Members usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing their cooperative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the cooperative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.

4. Autonomy and Independence

Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If the coop enters into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raises capital from external sources, it is done based on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain the cooperative’s autonomy.

5. Education, Training, and Information

Cooperatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperatives. They inform the general public – particularly young people and opinion leaders – about the nature and benefits of cooperation.

6. Cooperation among Cooperatives

Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional, and international structures.

7. Concern for Community

While focusing on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members.