ILO COOP/SSE 100 Symposium - Session 2: Cooperative Legislation and Policy

The second session of the two-day symposium focused on cooperative legislation and policy. The session was chaired by Anna Biondi, Deputy Director of the ILO’s Workers’ Activities Department. The Chair opened the session by mentioning the importance of the normative framework around cooperatives as outlined in ILO’s Promotion of Cooperatives Recommendation, 2002 (No. 193).

The first speaker of the session Hagen Henrÿ presented his paper on “The harmonization of cooperative laws”. Dr. Henrÿ presented the three main instruments i) the 1995 International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) Statement on the Cooperative Identity (ICA Statement), ii) the 2001 United Nations Guidelines aimed at creating a supportive environment for the development of cooperatives (UN Guidelines), and iii) the International Labour Organization (ILO) Promotion of Cooperatives Recommendation, 2002 (ILO R. 193). He then focused part of his presentation on two perceived contradictory paragraphs contained in ILO R. 193 namely paragraphs 10 and 18. He offered a possible solution to solve the issue by suggesting to give room for the interpretation of paragraph 18 which is meant to include legal principles. He concluded his presentation by urging the cooperative movement to revive the basis of its inherent solidarity in view of the growing number of conventional firms concerned by sustainable development through corporate social responsibility policies. He noted this would help ensure and demonstrate the relevance of the movement.

The second paper on “Legal Framework Analysis and the ICA-EU Partnership: Elements Supporting an Enabling Environment for Cooperative Enterprises” was presented by John Emerson & Jeffrey Moxom. They started their presentation by providing an overview of the ICA-EU partnership and its objectives with an emphasis on the objectives of the legal framework analysis undertaken and its outputs. The presentation then focused on elements supporting an enabling environment for cooperative enterprises through four areas: i) implementation and enforcement; ii) a level playing field for cooperatives; iii) absence of legal fragmentation; and iv) up-to date law. The speakers concluded their intervention by stressing the fact that contexts vary widely from country to country.

The third presentation was made by Gemma Fajardo Garcia on “Associated Work is not Dependent or Autonomous Work”. She started her intervention by defining the typology of cooperatives and key terms including what is meant by ‘associate work cooperatives’ i.e. “when the predominant interest in a cooperative is to create and maintain jobs, which are presumed to be stable and in good condition.” Then, she introduced CICOPA’s World Declaration on Worker Cooperatives (2005) and its three modes of defining labour activity: Independent work; dependent work; and associated work. The Guidelines on statistics of cooperatives adopted at the 20th International Conference of Labour Statisticians (2018) also referred to these these categories. The rest of the presentation aimed at further defining the different types of workers and members in cooperatives. 

Session 2 Presenters
In the question and answer session, the presenters were asked to provide examples of cooperative legislation that are most aligned with the ILO’s Promotion of Cooperatives Recommendation, 2002 (No. 193). In response Hagen Henrÿ indicated that such comparisons or rankings in terms of cooperative legislation would require consideration of other areas of laws as well (e.g. provisions related to cooperatives in other laws such as the ones related to taxation). Having said that he noted that Portugal offers an interesting example of cooperative legislation.

Ms Fajardo Garcia responded to a question on issues faced by associated workers in cooperatives with their contribution to social security systems in Latin America (as they are not independent workers they are responsible for their affiliation). She reflected on an example from Spain where cooperatives can decide in their bylaws whether they want to be affiliated with the social security system for salaried workers or with the one for “independent work”.

Mr. Henrÿ responded to an observation made by a participant in Haiti who indicated that legislation could hinder cooperative development. He reminded the audience that cooperatives principles that are translated into legal rules by lawyers are only principles. As such the principles can be interpreted according to given needs in a specific context. In addition, he explained that some leeway also exists in cooperative bylaws in countries where cooperative legislation could be seen as too rigid. This led him to talk about the monitoring function of cooperative unions and federations. The example of Italy was brought to illustrate this last point.