ILO COOP/SSE 100 Symposium - Session 8: Cooperatives and Sustainability

The eighth session of the two-day symposium focused on cooperatives and sustainability. It was chaired by Vic van Vuuren.

The first speaker of the session, Mr. Jürgen Schwettmann, presented a paper on “Access and Inclusion: Cooperatives and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. Mr. Schwettmann introduced the link between the SDGs and cooperatives and presented the three approaches can be adopted to illustrate the relationship between the SDG and cooperatives. The first is a comprehensive approach where cooperatives have the potential to contribute to each and every one of the 17 SDGs. The second is a thematic approach, which highlights how cooperatives can play an important role in certain thematic areas such as extension of social protection. The third is a target-oriented approach that focuses on selecting cooperative-friendly targets among the 169 SDG targets.

He proposed to opt for the target-oriented approach, by focusing on those SDG targets that call for better access and greater inclusion. Cooperatives can play a critical role in facilitating access and inclusion. He identified 23 SDG targets that have a focus on access and inclusion. He gave two examples of how cooperatives can contribute to access and inclusion. In conclusion, he proposes three concrete next steps for cooperatives to gain greater visibility.

The second paper on “Cooperatives and the Sustainable Development Goals: 5 Years of Progress?” was presented by Rodrigo Gouveia. He noted that the SDGs recognize the diversity of private sector. Visibility, participation and recognition of cooperatives remains low. He mentioned that there is not enough research that can provide a clear picture on the contribution of cooperatives particularly at the global level. He thought that the action of cooperatives towards the SDGs is accidental or indirect. Mr. Gouveia suggested that an overall strategy is needed. Cooperatives can incorporate the SDGs into their commercial and social strategies. Communications could be adapted to better reflect the contributions of cooperatives to the SDGs. A set of indicators could be developed by cooperatives at a global level that fits the nature of cooperatives. The cooperative movement could engage in coalitions with other like-minded movements like the fairtrade movement. Dialogue with policymakers could also be increased.

The third paper on “From Waste Pickers to Producers: An Inclusive Circular Economy Solution through Development of Cooperatives in Waste Management” was presented by Rajesh Buch and Alicia Marseille. Rajesh Buch presented the problem of linear economy and the global waste crisis. He noted informal waste pickers are exposed to health hazards and social exclusion. Alicia Marseille presented solution to this linear economy by building an inclusive circular economy. The two researchers proposed four pillars for cooperatives in waste management: Building networks of stakeholders to include waste pickers; Forming and strengthening waste picker cooperatives; Capacity strengthening for entrepreneurship; and Access to technology for remanufacturing and production. Such solutions generate impact such as create market driven and inclusive approach to recycling, connect formal end market for the informal sector, skill development in science and technology.

Question: How can stakeholders best use the recognition of the term ‘culture’ in coop-definition, in realizing the SDGs?
Answer: Culture is a part of the cooperative identity and there are cooperatives active in culture. ‘idea and practice of organizing shared interest in cooperatives’ in the representative list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the UNESCO. SDGs talk about cooperation at the global level. Cooperation at the local level could be the specific contribution of cooperatives to the 2030 Agenda.

Question: What challenges are imposed on cooperatives in times of COVID-19 and in relation to their contributions to the SDGs?
Answer: The main challenge for cooperatives is to keep the course and to focus not only on economic but also social goals in times of crisis. I hope cooperatives will emerge stronger from the crisis, precisely because they will not forget their social roles even in the economic difficulties.

Question: What are ways to increase market power for waste pickers’ cooperatives so they get decent prices for their services/ products?
Answer: One way is to think about how to connect them with market opportunity and what kind of products can be created to gain higher return. Some of that work also feeds into improving working conditions.

Question: There are efforts to monitor implications of cooperatives on SDGs but how do we get a systematic effort going?
Answer: The SDG framework includes too many indicators. It is impossible to measure cooperative contributions to all the indicators. So it is important to select the indicators that best suited for cooperative actions and encourage cooperatives to report on these.

Question: How can cooperatives be strengthened to accelerate the realization of SDGs, keeping in mind COVID-19 and recovery?
Answer: Lack of training and knowledge and weak strategic planning of cooperatives are two areas that need strengthening in relation to SDGs. Operationalizing SDGs is part of strategic planning. Cooperatives need to have a look at the SDG targets and find the most relevant ones to their operations and report them.

Question: What kind of difficulties are there in organizing informal workers into cooperatives?
Answer: Initial trust is essential. Important to work with cooperatives that have already established such trust.

Question: Who are the actors who can make a difference in making their efforts visible?
Answer: Global cooperative movement has not been active in the design of SDGs. National federations and the international cooperative movement need to be mobilized to influence policies and UN review of SDGs.