ILO COOP/SSE 100 Symposium - Session 3: Cooperation in Context

The third session of the two-day symposium focused on cooperatives in different contexts. The session was chaired by Stefania Marcone, Head of International Relations and European Policy Office at Legacoop in Italy.

The first speaker, Ms Ottavia Cima presented her paper titled “From Local Cooperation Experiences in Kyrgyzstan Towards a More Flexible Understanding of Cooperatives”. She focused on unpacking the narrative of “failed cooperatives” in Kyrgyztan and in ex-socialist countries based on her research. She provided a brief historical overview of cooperatives in Kyrgyzstan and explained the reasons behind the perceived ‘failures’ of cooperatives as linked to the ‘Soviet legacies’, and the consequences of that narrative. The rest of her presentation further broke down the ‘failure cooperatives’ narrative highlighting how it adopts a narrow understanding of cooperatives. She concluded by urging for a wider understanding of cooperatives and to remain open to learning from experiences in transition country contexts.

The second speaker, Nicola Coundourakis presented her paper on “Co-operation in Action: Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) as a Pathway Towards Localised Value Chains”. Ms Coundourakis introduced the concept of CSA as a pathway towards localised value chains. After defining the term CSA and setting the scene with references to the current multiple crises (e.g. Covid-19, food insecurity) she explained the relevance of this model. The second part of presentation was made of a series of case studies from Brazil, USA, and Belgium. Her concluding remarks were related to the potential of CSA to play a more active role at national and regional level.

The third speaker, Ms Giorgia Trasciani presented her paper on “Ethically Sound Supply Chains: A Consumer Co-operative Perspective”. Ms Trasciani started by introducing Euro Coop, the Association of Consumer Cooperatives in Europe. She reflected on different instruments for ensuring transparency throughout the supply chains (e.g. UN SDGs, UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights). The second part of her presentation was devoted to case studies of consumer cooperatives from Finland, Italy, and the UK. She concluded that the case studies showed that advancing ethical supply chains is at the core of the consumer cooperative business model.

Session 3 Presenters
The final speaker, Ms Joana Marques presented her paper on “Cooperating in and Beyond the Arts Field: A Mapping of Theatre Collectives in Portugal & Brazil”. Ms Marques started her intervention by providing a definition of (art) workers’ collective and information on the national contexts in Portugal and Brazil. She provided a broad overview of working conditions of art workers, forms of cooperation and collective organizing in collective theatres as well as relations between them and social movements. The presentation ended with a few lessons for cooperatives in search of new forms of democratic and egalitarian organizing.

In the question and answers session, Ms Coundourakis responded to a comment regarding the financing requirements for success of CSA models by giving examples of tangible and practical ways for people to link into CSA. She also replied to a question on how technology can improve impact of CSA by stressing the need to bear in mind the low rates of digitalization and digital literacy in some parts of the world.

Ms Trasciani responded to a question on the challenges for cooperative to cooperative trade between producers and consumers. She mentioned the work of Euro Coop, with local partners, in this regard to shorten supply chains and increase the transparency of those chains.

All panellists were asked about how cooperatives and wider SSE could provide alternatives to democratize wealth. Ms. Marques noted that cooperatives and other SSE organizations that are membership based allow their members to be a part of democratic decision-making processes.

Ms Coundourakis pointed out that wealth should also be considered as knowledge and asset, and not exclusively as having financial resources.