Highlights of an Interview with Jean Louis Bancel at the 106th ILC

Jean Louis Bancel, the recently elected Cooperatives Europe President, participated in the 106th International Labour Conference representing the International Cooperative Alliance. ILO COOP talked with Jean Louis who is also the President of Credit Cooperative, a cooperative bank in France, and the President of Coop France. Below are highlights from that conversation ranging from the relation between cooperatives and the social economy to the changing world of work.

Actualité | 13 juin 2017
Jean Louis Bancel with the photo of Albert Thomas at the ILO HQ
In Europe, there was a long process of dialogue and engagement between cooperatives and social and solidarity economy actors before a common understanding was reached. In France, for instance there has been a national committee of liaison for activities of mutual associations and cooperatives since the 1970s.

Initially, the cooperative movement members in Europe were concerned that rapprochement with other social and solidarity economy actors would result in dilution of cooperative values and principles. Eventually the ongoing dialogue has brought them together to focus more on their similarities than their differences.

In this context cooperative values and principles are an important reference. On cooperative values such as self-help, self-responsibility, equity, equality and solidarity there is a convergence between cooperatives and other social and solidarity economy entities like mutual associations.

When it comes to cooperative principles, there is also likely to be a convergence between cooperatives and social and solidarity economy enterprises on principle 7 (concern for community).  Having said that most other social and solidarity economy enterprises do not adhere to all seven cooperative principles. This is especially likely to be the case for cooperative principles 1 (voluntary and open membership), 2 (democratic vote), 3 (member economic participation) and 4 (autonomy and independence).

Of course we need to embrace change and recognize emerging form of cooperatives. When cooperatives that serve non-members, like Italian social cooperatives, came about there was resistance to accepting them as they did not fit the preset rules of cooperatives that only serve members. But they were eventually recognized and provide an excellent demonstration of care for community principle.

There are non-negotiable lines. For instance, we need to be careful with claims of social entrepreneurship around foundations established by Fortune 500 corporations. The demarcations of what constitutes corporate social responsibility and what is social entrepreneurship need to be carefully defined and preserved.

Cooperatives are “enterprises” but they are also more than just business as usual. They are culturally and socially part of the intangible human heritage as a specific way for humans to build a “better world”. That is why they were recognized by UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2016 by UNESCO, as proposed by Germany.

Jean Louis Bancel with ILO COOP staff
We need to continue to embrace the diversity in the different types of cooperative enterprises. As Cooperatives Europe President I plan to get closer to members. I would like to make sure that members understand the value of the ICA, the apex organisation for cooperatives worldwide. I hope to regain or reclaim the recognition of cooperative enterprises as a part of the European social economic model.

The centenary of the ILO is a good opportunity to reflect on the relevance of the rules of the institution in a changing world of work. The cooperative movement is keen to engage in the changes that are unravelling and the adaptations needed around them. In this context I believe the spirit of Philadelphia declaration should not only be kept alive but also rejuvenated.

For instance, 75 per cent of the producer organizations involved in FairTrade International are small-scale producer cooperatives. Fair trade principles include the four areas of fundamental principles and rights at work. Now there is the growing space around free use and free access through commons. The neo-classical ownership structure is being challenged. Cooperatives with their member-owned and democratic governance structures can take on these new ideas.

I believe Europe is still the vivid cradle of cooperative values and principles. It is also a source of decent work ideals. I think cooperatives can be more centrally featured in delivering on the sustainable development goals in general and SDG8 in particular in the future of work. In Cooperatives Europe and in the global cooperative movement in general we are ready to take up this challenge and engage as demonstrated in the commitments on decent work emerging from the last two editions of the International Summit of Cooperatives.